Defining Values

“The role of creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued”  -Ken Robinson

Organizational Values

One thing that has occupied my mind for a while, and much more recently, has been the idea of organizational culture and the values that support that culture. I have always felt that in supporting the building of an organizational culture that it’s really important that values are defined that clearly reflect what that culture cares about. So I explored the cultures of Zappos, Atlassian, Ideo, Netflix and a few others to get an idea of their message, the organization they indicate they are and what they indicate to be their organizational values. It’s been very interesting research to undertake just to see how they approached this. I am going to outline a couple here although all of them are great approaches to review.


Culture is a large part of this company’s identity. Tony Hsieh has built a company that is people- centric company (maybe even more shown as his recent embrace of holacracy which garners a lot of skepticism). The 10 values of Zappos are:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

Zappos has a very transparent presence of their values and indicates that they not only impact their people, products and service but how they design and undertake their business strategies currently and moving forward. Examples of this are their culture blog and Zappos Insights program that seeks to help companies become exposed to how Zappos culture works and how they might move their own organization and groups supporting the organization to move towards a new model (which aligns to their embrace and drive change and open communications values).


Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix asked Patty McCord, the chief talent officer,  HR Director to help write out the values of the company in the early days. What started with standard traits most identify such as respect, integrity shifted to something that some see as one of the most important organization cultural document through shifting its focus into answering the question of what they were looking for in people they hired. This produced what is known as the “Netflix Freedom and Responsibility” document that outlined what the company valued and what it sought and valued in its employees. One of the most memorable statements contained within the document states “mediocre performance results in a generous severance package”. This document outline a culture that sought to extend freedom to employees (dress, no defined vacation policy) balanced against an expectation that employees worked in the best intention to be responsible to the company and their overall mission and goals. If you have not read this, it is a great read; I highly suggest searching for “netflix values” and reading it.


Our Values – Process

So, I decided before the holidays to begin work with my people to define how we project the values we hold important and how we project them both inside our group as well as to others outside of our group. Let me warn you, if you are about to undertake this; please be gentle and encourage everyone. It’s a tough exercise for people sometimes to feel comfortable to think about core values. For most, a lot of them get established early (even though them may shift over time).  I was very fortunate that the group as a whole understood the end goal. Before I held the first meeting, I discussed in one staff meeting and then just before sent out an email to staff about why values mattered and how important as an organization I felt it was for us to define and make visible what we care about. It was my way to clearly communicate the goal and vision behind what we were about to undertake.

So in the first meeting, the group was divided into (4) teams (of about 4 people) and  they were provided with post-it notes and sharpies. They were asked one question, what do you think the core values that represent the culture we are building is? They could write as many as they liked but I time-boxed the exercise to about 20 minutes. Once completed, the members of the teams placed the values on 4 separate whiteboards. We started with one whiteboard with a person reading that team’s defined values. If any of the team leads heard a duplicate of what they wrote, they would remove it. We’d then move to the next team and repeat the process. Once we removed the dupes, we moved all values to one board and did show of hands for ones that majority wanted to consider. The others were moved off and any that tied were defaulted to consider. We ended up with about 33 separate values in the end. I polled the group as to where the comfort of the group was in terms of number of values to represent us completely. The group settled on 7 values.

So I took the 33 values, aggregated them into a spreadsheet and got them out that afternoon and gave a space to consider them. I asked the group to reflect on the values and select the 7 values that they felt were core values from the 33. Over a week period, team members replied to my email to the whole group with their 7 values. I tallied the results and in the next staff meeting I presented the values selected. It ended up being 10 (dues to ties) but the group felt 2 of them could be collapsed as they were similar. I asked for volunteers to work with me in a “values tribe” (I will talk about tribes in another post) and had 5 volunteer. I took the values and wrote a statement and a paragraph of what they meant to me as guidance for the remainder of the tribe. I then asked them to consider what my thoughts were and reflect on their own and make them as “digestible” as possible. They met as they felt warranted to create these values and on a late Friday afternoon, came to me as a group and turned over what they had come up with for me to consider over the weekend and provide feedback so they could determine if we presented them on Monday. I thanked them and read over them and agreed to reflect on them over the weekend. When I returned on Monday the tribe asked for my feedback and what I told them was I was unwilling to change a single word as I thought they had captured these values and ideas in an amazing manner. We presented them to staff that afternoon.

I am of the entire staff in working to define these and especially proud of the values tribe in making this into something great. I really wanted to share these as I am so moved by the thoughtfulness of the staff in defining these. My goal is to get these into BVCs (Big Visible Charts) to help us further refine how much of a part of our culture they are.

Our Cultural Values

How we interact as teams and individuals

“We choose to actively participate in a culture that” …

  • Embraces the diversity of creative teams
  • Appreciates the bonding influence and inspiring power of humor
  • Praises honesty where praise is always sincere and criticism is offered with respect

A Worldview as a Citizen of the Organization

“We choose to actively participate in a culture that” …

  • Believes an investment in growth and learning returns value to ourselves, our customers and the people of Tennessee
  • Recognizes the reality of change and chooses to help drive it instead of being swept along by it
  • Understands we lack perfect knowledge and is willing to change ANYTHING that isn’t working

Our Work

“We choose to actively participate in a culture that” …

  • Respects the time, money and inherent value of every person our work impacts
  • Accepts responsibility for our actions and takes ownership of our work
  • Regularly reevaluates our own best-practices to strive for quality in our processes and products

In short …”Don’t be a jerk”!



The Name Game

In a training I attended on agility some time ago we performed an exercise called the “Name Game” which was targeted to show the value of team focus. I came across this post of an extended version of the exercise from the folks at LitheSpeed and wanted to share it.

I will definitely put this in my personal agility toolbox!

Details at their blog here.