Personal Values VS Corporate Values
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I make a distinction between Personal Values and Corporate Values.
Although we have very little control over nature’s behaviour, we can control our own. Our choices in two areas are relevant here. One is how we choose to be – the values by which we lead our lives – and the second is what we choose to do.
Answering the questions, “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” lead us toward clarity about how we choose to be. So long as our choice flows from our inner knowing, it will be aligned with our Personal Vision, and we are on the right path.
You can ask this question: “In leading a life based on these values, am I moving toward or away from being the kind of person who I want to be?”
Values take root and become powerful influences in our lives long after they are no longer part of our conscious awareness. Any effort to become more self-aware must include a review of our values.
Each of us lives by certain values. Values provide the cornerstone of conventions and laws in different cultures and societies. At a personal level, they furnish the guidelines for our determination of what is right or wrong, good or bad. They are an essential ingredient in determining the choices we make and form the foundation of our personal and professional lives and relationships.
It is helpful to recognise that values are all arbitrary. They vary from culture to culture, from religion to religion and from family to family. What is acceptable and appropriate – what is deemed right – in one group may be unacceptable and inappropriate – deemed wrong – in another. In India, for example, before entering a home or place of worship, a person is expected to remove his shoes in order not to defile the sanctity of a place with the dirt of the streets. In Australia, on the other hand, if one were to enter such a building bare-footed, he likely would be seen as disrespectful because of his failure to honour the acceptable dress code. Neither position is right or wrong. Each simply represents one of the many differing values of the two cultures. This is typical of the arbitrary nature of values in general.
Beginning at birth, before we are aware of what is happening, we become acculturated, taking on the values of our family, religion and culture, not knowing we have any other choice. As adults, when we either accept or reject unquestioningly those values under which we have been raised, we unwittingly allow our lives to be governed by values that are not our own. If this continues, our life will lack power and vitality.
If we are wise, we will choose only those that resonate with both our mind and our heart. In so doing, we will be claiming those values as our own, taking full responsibility for our life and the way we choose to live it. We will have “individuated” those values. Unlike a life lived in conformity to or reaction against others’ values, the individuated life is filled with personal power, aliveness and meaning.
By the time we reach adulthood, we are all “loaded.” What is contained in the load may be of questionable value or it may be priceless. Most often, it is a combination of both. Your challenge is to sort through the load to discern those things that, for us, represent the wheat and separate them from the chaff. We must examine each of the values that was loaded onto us in youth. We must recognise it. We must examine it. We must evaluate it. Is it valid for us? Do we want to keep all or part of it or modify it or discard it altogether? This inner work must be done alone. It can only be done alone because we now must locate and draw upon our own inner source of knowing. Even though others may later agree with this value, it must be selected solely on the basis that it is valid for us.
Sometimes it is easier to recognise the values of another than to become aware of our own. For this reason, an effective way to begin examining our own values is, first, to analyse those of the culture in which we were raised, including parents, school, church, community and ethnic group and then to become aware of those we have adopted (consciously or unconsciously) as our own.
Even if we choose to retain a value from our childhood and thereby make it our own, that value is no longer external but is now a part of our internal core. Real personal power flows through such a value. It has withstood testing. We do not merely believe it to be true; we now know it to be true for us.
On the other hand, if a particular value, even though once beneficial, no longer serves our life expression, we may consciously choose to modify or even discard it. In this latter case, it does not necessarily mean we have deemed it to be intrinsically worthless. At the kindergarten level, simplistic and absolute rules govern much of children’s behaviour (not crossing the street alone, for instance). We do not have to continue following such rules once we are more mature, however, for we can cross the street quite safely without supervision. At the same time, we recognise that the simplistic, absolute rule (“… never, never go into the street!”) still provides protection for younger ones and, therefore, although we no longer need them, these values still have worth. In this way, we can set aside an early value without judging those who still retain it.
Another value I have individuated is, “It is my responsibility to protect and provide for my family.” Although this applied when my children were younger, I have learned that protecting and providing for them past a certain point does not really help them. It has been important for me to let go and allow them to make their own mistakes, to flex their own muscles and succeed – or fail – on their own.
Once we have thoughtfully and objectively individuated our own values – we will have taken an important step toward wholeness. We have true inner power and inner peace. This process does not occur all at once, even in a mature, strong individual. Rather, it is an ongoing, lifelong process.
True guilt occurs when we betray the truth of our own nature – when we betray our own values.
If we find ourselves encountering an inner struggle, perhaps feeling guilty while engaging in the process of individuating a value, this is probably a clear signal that we need to re-examine that value. Living a life based on our own values will empower, not dis-empower, us. So long as we live our life according to a value system other than our own, we will not be able to connect with our inner source of power, fulfill our destiny, or find peace and true meaning.
True guilt is appropriate and supportive to us, occurring when we betray our own truth. Once established, our own inner values form a touchstone against which we may measure our actions.
At every stage of life, we operate from two value systems. First are those principles that govern our behaviour – our internal values or what I call character values. In addition, we also have external values that dictate the priorities we set in our lives. For this reason, I call these priority values.
In choosing our priority values, it is important to give careful consideration to what is truly important and then allocate our time, energy and resources to creating a life consistent with these priority values.
The priorities of a retired parent of grown children will be different from those he held when the children were little. What is important to a teenager is probably quite different from what his grandparents might choose, and vice versa. A blue collar worker and parent of three children might change her priorities if she suddenly inherited five million dollars. If you learned you had only six months to live, might you spend your time differently?
In searching for meaning in our lives and our careers, it is helpful to continually examine our internal and external values, seeking always to choose those that resonate deeply within us, and then do our utmost to live our lives in a manner that is congruent with them.
Often, the easiest way to determine our values is to observe our behaviour. Our actions are the one critical test of our values, no matter what we espouse and regardless of our best intentions. This is especially true when we are under pressure, for that is when our true character emerges for all to see. Gandhi said, “My life is my message.”
Creating a meaningful and fulfilling life requires that we continually observe our behaviour, especially when under duress. Are our actions congruent with our character values? If one of our character values is courage, for example, how do we behave when threatened on the battlefield of life? If integrity is a high character value, do we behave honestly, regardless of personal consequences? If compassion is a high character value, what is our reaction when a key member of our team becomes ill, jeopardising a critical project for which we are responsible? When we find a disparity between our character values and our actions, it is incumbent upon us to take the time to reexamine the relevant value. We must ask ourselves if this is truly a principle upon which we can build a meaningful life. If so, we can then do our best to correct our behaviour. If not, we can replace the value with one that is valid for us.
The same applies to external values. As a father of two young children, I used to claim “family” as my primary priority value, yet I traveled extensively, often absent for two or three weeks each month. When a friend questioned my priorities, I rationalised the gap between my stated value and my behaviour by explaining that I traveled for the sole purpose of providing for my family. As in any rationalisation, there was an element of truth in my defense. It is also true, however, that millions of fathers provide well for their families without spending large blocks of time away.
Clearly, it was appropriate for me to honestly reexamine this priority value as well as my behaviour.
The values of a business form its personality and its culture – the psychological and emotional fabric of the business – and help the management team determine both its strategies and its tactics.
Every individual has a set of Internal Values – or principles – that governs his or her behaviour. In the case of a mature, whole individual, these internal values have been carefully and thoughtfully selected during the process of individuation. Others have unthinkingly accepted their internal values from family, teachers, religious leaders, peers and other unquestioned sources. In either case, the person’s behaviour will be a reflection of these values. That individual who operates from an individuated internal value system is the one who is capable of responsible Leadership.
So it is with a company. Each company operates according to an often unstated but clearly understood value system. I refer to these values or principles as a company’s Core Values. They can be thought of as the moral compass of the organisation. They create the fabric of its culture. They are timeless and do not change. The importance of Core Values was underscored by Thomas J. Watson, Jr., former chairman of IBM:
“This, then, is my thesis: I firmly believe that any organisation, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs (values) on which it premises all its policies and actions. “Next, I believe that the most important single factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to these beliefs (values). “And finally, I believe that if an organisation is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except those beliefs (values) as it moves thorough corporate life.”
As with individuals, a company’s Core Values can be (and often are) accepted without question, or they can be carefully chosen by the company’s Leadership and its Management Team. The latter course leads to a healthier culture.
In my consulting practice, I work with businesses to create a workable strategic plan and business plan. An important part of this process is to clearly define the Values of the business. To this end, we review the list of Core Values that are the most important to the leaders and mangers in creating the desired culture of the business. Next, we rank them in order of importance, 1 through 3. Consensus is gained through facilitation and/or negotiation. You might find such an exercise worthwhile in your own business.
The purpose of this business report is to help focus your attention on your values and empower your life forever. This act of observing – focusing upon – these critical life elements ensures maximum return on your investment of time and energy.
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