Values and Clarity trump Politics and Confusion

by Dr. Donald N. Sweet

You probably found yourself saying, “of course”, when you read the title of this blog.  But stop for a moment and ask yourself how many organizations you’ve been in have values that are alive and well and clarity that is crystal.  We have written before about the pivotal role core values play in a business.  In this blog I’m going to expand on that and discuss the all important aspect of clarity.

Done right, core values are the social contract between the individual and the organization.  They communicate what to expect and how to act.  Our clients often use their core values as guideposts in making decisions.  It’s common for them to ask the, “what do our core values say about this” question.  One client says, “If you stay true to your core values it’s hard to go wrong.”

The enterprise and everyone in it benefits from having a set of living values.  Difficult conversations can often profit from the “what do our core values say” question.  When those challenging dialogues are with team members, addressing them in relation to a core value keeps the discussion from becoming personal.

Core values not only apply to employees and the hiring process.  They can also be pertinent to discussions and decisions about vendors, prospects and customers.  Sometimes we see those disconnects between our values and those of prospects.  When we do, we know the fit will not be good.  We also have clients who have decided to “fire” a customer because there was a major mismatch in values.

Clarity means that in addition to understanding the core values, the entire team is also clear about 1) the organization’s strategy, 2) the core customer, 3) the brand promise, 4) the long term goal, 5) the top three quarterly priorities and 6) what specifically is required of them to be successful.  When the entire team has this type of clarity they become a formidable force in the marketplace.

This is heavy lifting.  Most of us don’t naturally do a good job of making sure these items are clear.  The leadership team must passionately debate and commit to the first five answers above.  Many teams have a difficult time with that, as Pat Lencioni’s business fable, Five Dysfunctions of a Team would indicate.  Those items then need to be well communicated to everyone in the business.  Then they need to be reinforced, if needed, repeatedly.

Clarity of purpose provides power, leverage, or whatever you call the phenomenon that happens when the entire team is pulling in the same direction.  This is where smaller teams with fewer resources can compete effectively with larger competitors.  The most natural state seems to be organizations that are dominated by politics instead of values and confusion instead of clarity.  Many of us have worked for, and some of us have led, those types of enterprises.

Values and clarity can also improve how the individuals in the enterprise feel about themselves and their work.  If we can help people to feel better at work they might take those feelings