Rebellious Practices: How To Replace Rules and Protocols By A Set of Clear Values

Written by in Practices
- 5 min read

One of our recent blog posts described how values can replace lots of frustrating bureaucratic rules and procedures. Most of the organizations have already, at least once in their lifetime, written down some kind of values. Sadly, the majority of them don't seem to take their values seriously and many actually fail to use them in constructive meaningful way. It's a shame, because to fully be able to benefit from the collective intelligence of people, organizations should get rid of most of the rules, procedures and other bureaucratic instruments that slow

During our recent presentations and workshops people regularly ask us how they, themselves, can successfully define their own core values. Obviously, there is not just one perfect way, but let us explain what we learned from our Bucket List heroes, what we witnessed along the way and how we recently have defined them ourselves.

How to successfully define your core values?

We know it's not the most exciting work you can do, but defining your values can help you and your organization to boost engagement tremendously. Some of the pioneers we have visited over the last year have shown us how to successfully define core values.

Netflix's travel policy

At the American entertainment company Netflix they show how values can successfully help organizations to bust bureaucracy. It even replaced all their rules around travel policy. How did they do it?

First of all, Netflix defined and embraced 9 core values. Of those 9 core values judgement and honesty are important ones to help them guide their decision making when it comes to travelling. In fact, their travel policy is now as simple as this: "Act in Netflix's best interest".

As as result there seems to be no need for an abundance of control mechanisms. Living up to the values does not only trigger employees to use their best judgment instead of simply adhering to rules, it also helps Netflix to save huge amounts of money on staff and tools to control travel costs!

Here are some tips to successfully define your own core values:

1. Determine your core values bottom-up

We experienced the most powerful examples at the companies where the values were drafted and supported from the bottom-up (as for example Spotify and Cyberclick). If you do this, make sure to provide all employees with the opportunity to actively contribute to the process. It’s of utmost importance that leadership walk the talk and takes the initiative in a serious manner. They need to show the employees that everyone in the organization has a role to play.

2. Call for help

All employees need to be asked for input and for help. Ask them to draft a list of 4 or 5 core values that they really hold dear. These don't necessarily have to be single words, they may also be concepts, statements, drawings or images. As long as they represent how they personally connect to their work.

Let them dream and describe their answers to the following questions:

  • How they want their organization to work?
  • How they would like to work?
  • How they would like to treat each other?
  • How they would like to communicate with each other, with their customers, and the world?

Write down whatever comes to mind. There are no right or wrong answers.

3. Make a shortlist

The moment you decide to ask for help from your employees, you will most probably be rewarded with lots of input. Once you have received the input, the next step is to distill the most collectively supported core values. Gather and cluster the input and draft a shortlist of the 30 most mentioned values, concepts or principles.

4. Support shortlist with stories

Once again ask the whole organization for help. Ask employees to provide the most mentioned values with stories and examples from their daily work. Ask them to support and enrich the values with real-life stories other people within the organization can relate to.

5. Vote for the winners

Organize a moment where the whole organization comes together to collectively discuss the short list. Make the shortlist visible in a creative way. Provide people with the opportunity to share personal stories and let them explain why certain values are important to them. At last, let all people vote for their top 3 of most closely held values.

6. Select your core values

Now, at the end of the day, it's a matter of counting votes and deciding how many core values the organization wants to select. Be sure to support your core values with stories in order to make them lively and explanatory. It will give written clarity to the broad, conceptual statements.

7. Now: live and breathe your values

Just defining values will not unleash their full potential. In order to reap the full benefits, values shouldn't become just another fancy wall decoration. Make sure they are ingrained in your day-to-day work: from hiring, promoting, and decision making, to leading, and awarding. Check out our previous blog post for tips.

8. Get rid of rules

To benefit from your values to the full extent, get rid of rules and let the values guide people's decision making. From the example of Netflix's travel policy to Hollands Kroon's unlimited holiday policy.

Try and fail, but don't fail to try

Do you feel a clear set of values or guiding principles can benefit your organization as well? Then just start experimenting and fine-tune your practice along the way.


Replies (2)

Tricia Clewett

Tricia Clewett

If only it were possible to assume that everyone's interpretations will be the same. I could choose to say it's in my company's best interests for me to appear to have maximum status and impact, thereby justifying spending a fortune on personal aggrandisement whilst my colleague might interpret best interest in totally the opposite way.

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Alayne Reesberg

Alayne Reesberg

Having values is a uniquely human attribute, often originating in early childhood (and usually not because of good experiences...) and these remain under-cover or implicit until they are transgressed or violated. I would assert that companies cannot have values -- companies "host" the multiple values of their employees. When these are violated explicitly or or implicitly, most humans detach emotionally rather than fight. The trick, it would seem, is to have a discussion about the currency produced by living individual values -- feeling connected, feeling values, feeling seen. That "currency" is transferable, or universal. That is the gold. Not to have three or five "shared" company values. All values, when lived fully, will benefit the company because of the energy and emotional commitment it releases in the the individual.

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