Values Exercise: Don’t Drop the Values Ball

February 19, 2015

At CO2 Partners, we always begin strategic planning sessions with the organization’s values. It’s important to know who you are as an organization before deciding upon what you want to do and where you want to go.

The values exercise we do involves identifying, prioritizing, and wordsmithing a set of values. It’s typically a one-day process that involves as many of the organization’s employees as possible–in order to increase input and buy-in.

According to psychologists, seven is the number of items in a sequence we humans can hold in our working memory, so I used to allow organizations to select up to six values. I figured that was within memorability range. It wasn’t. It may work for numbers, but it doesn’t with values.  After a number of years (slow learner), I began forcing organizations to narrow their choice of values to just four. Recall rates improved dramatically.

Most of my clients renew their values each year so that new employees have a chance to provide their insights and connection (or lack of connection) to those values. Continuing employees are encouraged to provide feedback as well on how well the organization’s values apply and are observed.

Over the first three years, it’s not uncommon for organizations to make subtle modifications. By year four, however, the organization’s values have, more or less, been settled upon and taken root.

It’s still valuable to review values after year four, of course. When reviewing values, we ask employees to provide a narrative of each of the values they’ve seen in action. Some companies have taken the best of these stories, printed them, and handed out copies to all employees; they give a copy to new employees, too, so that they know what it looks like to put these values into behaviors.

Each year we get feedback from all employees of how we can do a better job of communicating and reinforcing the organization’s values. These are some of my favorite responses:

  1. Tell stories of experience that exemplifies this.
  2. Put up posters on the wall and ask people to put post-its up on the poster with examples of the values being lived in our organization.
  3. Start every meeting in which each person has to tell a story of a value in action.
  4. Repeating this in meetings and making it into everyday language.
  5. Add it to the email signature.
  6. Promo products with values on them.
  7. Make part of the hiring process.
  8. Install component into employee training.
  9. Put on intranet and internet.
  10. Promote those that best reflect the organization’s values.
  11. Make the decision-making process incorporate the organizational values.
  12. Recognition system.
  13. Have an employee video contest, “How to bring our values to work.”
  14. Wallet cards with values on them.
  15. Say it to everyone that asks about our organization
  16. Discuss what this means and how it looks played out in an everyday scenario.
  17. Provide more evidence and examples of it.

I’m always in the market for ways to keep conversations about organizational values active and interesting. These conversations don’t always happen easily outside of planning sessions–because it can feel too awkward, unusual, or forced.  At a recent planning session, I passed a ball around. If you got thrown the ball, it was your turn to share an example of when you’d witnessed an organizational value in action. Still, it was tough sledding. I asked, “What’s a way to get values conversations going in your organization?” The ball hit the ground by accident. The person who picked it up said, “Don’t drop the values ball.” That prompted some laughter, and the exercise became easier and more fun.

I’ve since created an actual values ball for clients (with their values written on it), so that they have a tactile and visual reminder, and so they can make up fun ways to keep their values alive and aloft.

What are you doing not to drop your values ball?


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