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Discover and Share Your Core Values

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First, a confession. And I’m a little embarrassed to admit this. For most of my career I didn’t understand what it meant to define an organization’s values. I have studied leadership for almost 30 years and I have been in leadership positions for over 25. I always hear people talk about “core values” and how these values guide organizations and form a company’s culture. Yet, I never quite got it—until this year. I was reading The Commitment Engine: Making Work Worth It by John Jantsch and came across this quote:

“The key to creating a great list of commitment beliefs is to throw off any notion of what they should be and simply brainstorm a bit about the best traits of your organization. Think about your people. Who on your team embodies what your company stands for? …This is not a list of what ought to be or what sounds impressive. This is a list of what is, even if what is today isn’t as fully developed as you know it can be.” 

My shop’s core values, or what Jantsch calls “commitment beliefs” were already there, present in my shop’s culture and history just waiting to be uncovered and highlighted. That seemed so much more doable than trying to write lofty statements that I knew nobody would care about, including me.

Armed with this new insight, I began poking around in our shop and making mental notes of things that were already true about us. I thought back to why I got into the business in the first place. I started asking questions like “what makes us different from other shops?” I looked at our advertising and marketing materials.

Soon I came up with a list of several things like local generosity, operating with care, serving a higher purpose, environmental stewardship, joy, creativity, and integrity.

This list is more than a bunch of ideals we hope to achieve. These ‘commitment beliefs’ are foundational to who we are—our identity—and they guide everyday decisions like who we hire, how I lead, how and where we spend money, and the stories that we tell.

Once you understand your values and have a handful of them it’s time to start sharing them.

We recently started having monthly team meetings with techs, managers, estimators, and office staff. We intentionally hold the meeting in the shop space. Once a month we pull out the tables and arrange some chairs in our shop. We bring out a simple meal of pizza or BBQ and we meet.

We start by going around the circle, asking everyone to share one positive thing that happened for them during the past month. It can be related to the shop or something more personal to them. They share whatever they want. In this way everyone is part of the meeting. Some take it seriously. Others don’t. But everyone is given the opportunity to share anything positive they want to share.

Next we share data. We talk about the financial performance of the shop as a whole, productivity hours for the month and cycle time. We talk about all the things we measure and track.
Then we usually pick one of our core values and weave a story around it. We try to find something that has happened recently or an important part of our history that illustrates a core value.

Last month we talked about local generosity. One of the ways we express that is by supporting a local rugby team that is led by my good friend Joshua. Joshua is a firefighter but in his spare time he loves to teach young people his favorite sport: rugby. And he is passionate about it. Joshua has recruited other coaches and lots of kids through his enthusiasm and we have the privilege of being a primary financial engine that helped to launch and now sustain it.

During our recent shop meeting I shared with our team about our value of generosity and how it has always been a part of our shop’s culture to give. It’s in our history. It’s in our DNA. I then tied their individual efforts and productivity to our collective ability to be generous toward this local rugby start up. I tried to show them the direct link between what they do on a daily basis and the fact that young men from the neighborhoods we serve are getting mentored and growing their confidence by learning the game of rugby. 

So, what are your core values and how do you share them with your team?

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