Living Your Values: Turning Intent into Action

August 2011, by So-Young Kang

People talk a lot about values. It’s a very PC (politically correct) thing to talk about how values are important to you. The walls of corporate boardrooms are covered with posters stating their company’s values – Integrity. Teamwork.

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But really…what does it all mean?

When assessing a company or individual to potentially collaborate with, I usually ask them, “What are your company’s core values?”

Real responses I’ve heard:

  • “Actually our company just went through a visions workshop. Hold on, let me go find the presentation. Ah…here it is. It’s…”
  • “Hmm…that’s a good question.”
  • “That’s a difficult one. It kind of depends on the context and situation.” (Does it really?)

So what are core values and how are they used? How could they be used in a powerful way?

I will simply define values as the “principles and beliefs that guide your behavior and actions.” I intentionally define it as a link between what you believe and perceive to be important in your mind and heart (not clearly visible to others) AND what is externally visible to others – your behavior, actions and words. Unfortunately, many people forget that second part which is why corporate values are sometimes seen as corporate jargon or a ‘nice thing to have.’ I would argue that if you cannot point to specific actions or decisions you have made based on your values, they are not real—they are merely words.

Let me share an example using our 5 core values and how they have shaped different decisions we, as a company, have made.

1) Potential: We believe that everyone has potential waiting to be unleashed. This gets lived out every day in how we work with our clients to bring out the best in them from the top team down to the front-line employees. We treat each human (otherwise known as employees, staff or resources) with the belief that they have tremendous potential. We recently launched Project Rocky (more on this in the future) to build various capabilities for our team members to increase their individual potential based on their unique strengths, not on a generic formula for success.

2) Integration of diversity: We value working with people very different from us. We believe these are key ingredients for creating new innovative solutions. We live this out in different ways. One way is through the launch of our Creative Collaborative last year where we get to work with painters, architects, film makers, fashion designers, CEO counselors, authors, consultants, and coaches. Yes. It’s fun. Another way is how we staff our project teams. We purposefully put a designer and a business person on the same team to work together and come up with new solutions for our clients.

3) Together is better: We don’t like to work alone. We find it more enjoyable and enriching to collaborate with others to achieve our shared dreams. When working on projects like our upcoming Human Leadership and Design Thinking conference, we keep it open and invite others with similar passions to join us. We don’t see people as competitors. We see them as potential collaborators (provided they share our values).

4) Community: We believe we exist to make the world a better place. We live as part of a larger community and find joy in enabling others to live out their dreams in the community. Since our founding, we have contributed time and financial resources to several non-profit organizations who share our values and mission, from Xealot to The Young Professionals’ Group to Beautiful People. We made a choice since we started to donate 10% of our top line revenues to like-minded and like-hearted organizations. This is a choice that is felt, not an afterthought. It’s real.

5) Honesty in Love: This is one of my personal favorites because I have worked in organizations that really valued and practiced honesty. But at times it was not done in my best interest or the best interest of others. We believe in treating each other with “honesty” AND “in love” which means in service of people and their needs, not necessarily your own. When you practice honesty in this way, it’s amazing how different the response is.

So those are our stated 5 values. We probably have a few more such as, the desire to continuously improve, strive for excellence and for being grateful. But I like to believe that those are the nice side effects of actually living our values every day.

Living your values require conscious choice. How real are your values?