Why are company values so important?

by Gerald Leonard

Values must be embraced and not just hung on a plaque. We must live them; they can’t be empty hollow words. They have to have an intrinsic value from the bottom to the top of an organization. These values will permeate every project and, more importantly, every employee.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” ― Mahatma Gandhi.

One of the toughest times in the career of a musician is when they are hired to be a part of a large ensemble. There is, of course, the expectation that they can play their part with expert precision. For most professionals, this is not a problem. By the time they reach the level of a professional musician, they have spent thousands of hours practicing.

What is tougher is for that musician to acclimate themselves to the culture. What values does the symphony follow? What are the expectations? They can be as simple as arriving 15 minutes early and being warmed up, and ready well before the conductor ever takes the podium to begin a rehearsal.

It could be that they attend a Thursday night chamber music session at one of the musician’s homes. This is not a written rule, but it is an unwritten expectation. The value is that the musicians spend time outside the hall to bond, share, and create. What happens if they blow off that Thursday night get-together?

According to Patrick Lencioni, there are four different kinds of values within an organization, which I will discuss below. The value types are:

  • Core Values
  • Aspirational Values
  • Permission to Play Values
  • Accidental Values

Core Values are those that are immovable. These are the foundational values that dictate and move a company’s values. These cannot be violated or compromised. In a symphony, a universal value is that you come prepared for rehearsal. There is no excuse for missing music, forgetting your bow, or not practicing a piece before rehearsal. These are non-negotiables. Sure, things can happen, but it is still not excusable long term. The reason these values are strong, both in a symphony and in business, is that they affect everyone. If a musician is not prepared, it can throw off an entire rehearsal.

If I were to forget my bass bow, I would not only get head shakes or a possible dressing down by the conductor, but everyone in my section would give me the same cold indifference. At the level of a professional musician, the value is that you are prepared – period.

Aspirational values are not the same as core values. When these are confused, and crossover occurs, there may be confusion. If the orchestra is all classically trained musicians, but the conductor insists on always choosing pops and jazz pieces, there can be confusion, primarily if the orchestra is not known to be a Pops orchestra, like the Boston Pops.

As you may have surmised, vision and values are very closely related. Vision drives and develops values.

Permission to play values are standards within a company that are not core but are values of high importance within an organization. Suppose a symphony boasted that they had a drug-free workplace. They did not abide by musicians who did illegal and illicit drugs. This is a permission to play value unless the symphony had a strict drug use policy and drug tested the musicians on a rotating and random basis as a condition of their employment. If they had such strict policies, then you could say that was a core value, but if you generally frowned upon the use of drugs, but had no direct strategies to address it, then it becomes a permission to play value.  A conductor might say, “We would love for you to play for our orchestra, but if you come in high, then you may be asked to go home and sober up before the next rehearsal.”

Accidental values occur more organically. They are not cultivated by leadership, and they seem to have a mind of their own, and they develop over time. Practical jokes can be an example. Suppose whenever the boss is out of the office for a few days, the group does something outrageous and funny, like rearranging the boss’s office, wrapping everything in plastic wrap, or messing with their computer. Now, this may encourage community spirit, and it may make all the workers feel like they are a part of something fun and cool. The boss, of course, would not be sanctioning it, and so they have a choice.

If it is all in play and things do not get out of hand, and it does not interfere with a core value of making production on time, then they may allow this accidental value to continue, as new employees may be indoctrinated and feel like they are a part of something special.

However, if the accidental value does not align or interferes with a core value, then a leader may need to address it and redirect it.

Core values can affect the brand of a company- which is why it cannot be compromised.

COVID-19 is exposing our individual, organizational, and national values. It is not only important to have values but to prioritize the values you embrace. So, what are your values? You know your values by the way you handle adversity. Take a deep breath, look in the mirror of your heart, and ask. 

Do I admire the values that I, my team, or my organization display under the adversity of our projects and programs?  If you don’t like what you see, you can take steps to change; and change, we must.


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