Values Are A Compass Made Of Morals

December 2, 2010

“Set your expectations high; find men and women whose integrity and values you respect; get their agreement on a course of action; and give them your ultimate trust.”

– John F. Akers

Principle 1 – Step 2:

If your vision is effectively your Why, values form the compass by which you will be following your vision. Specifically the values that must be established in a start up company are behavioural values as opposed to core or universal values. J.R. Hipple and Dr. Steve Olson wrote an examination for the Harvard Business Review outlining the values of the United States Marine Corp and how these shape and affect the behaviours of its members.

A core value (such as compassion or honesty), or values that are accepted as social norms, are considered to be “table stakes” in the start up environment. These are the bare minimum that leaders and team members should posses. Behavioural values on the other hand fall more closely in line with character traits or specifically designed characteristics. This is not to say that a core value cannot be held as a start up’s value, more that if you add a characteristic to these pre-existing values they become more explicit and in tune with your organization.

An example of this is taking honesty as one of the core values that you expose in your start up. If you add a characteristic to this such as “brutal honesty” it becomes more identifiable and specific to your organization. This way of characterizing your values creates the behavioural trends for your start up organization.

All of this isn’t to say there aren’t other methods or that this will be the correct one for you. There is a plethora of ways to determine what works best for your start up. Assigning behavioural characteristics to your values was simply the method we use and have found to be very effective in determining our values and culture.

Want to see how this works in action? Take your team through the following exercise that we use and have used to determine what our behavioural values are.

Ask each team member to think of the person they have worked with, read about or know of that they have the deepest sense of admiration for. Allow them to sit and form a picture of this person in their mind. Now ask them to write down the top three personality traits they associate with this person. From here, create a list by writing down all the mentioned personality traits. These become the physical representations of where you and your team find admiration and respect in others and yourself.

At this point, with your gathered list, engage your team in a debate as to what your startup’s top three should be. Note that this should be a very intense and heated discussion with everyone contributing and pushing back to support their ideas.

In our experience, with more than three values you begin to dilute the culture you are trying to create. By choosing only three values you aren’t saying that others are not important or irrelevant to your startup, simply that the three you have selected are non-negotiable and form the core of your existence.