Using Values as a Key Driver of Performance

Many organizations talk about leading from values. Yet I cannot count the number of hotels and other businesses that proudly display a statement of  mission and values that strike me as a set of generic platitudes which are disconnected from the service I experience as a customer.

One organization I’m affiliated with has done an exceptional job at leading with values. When Rich Lyons became Dean of Berkeley-Haas Business School he talked to a wide range of stakeholders.  From these dicussions and other related activities the school articulated the following four defining principles:

  • Question the Status Quo – We lead by championing bold ideas, taking intelligent risks and accepting sensible failures. This means speaking our minds even when it challenges convention. We thrive at the world’s epicenter of innovation.
  • Confidence Without Attitude – We make decisions based on evidence and analysis, giving us the confidence to act without arrogance. We lead through trust and collaboration.
  • Students Always – We are a community designed for curiosity and lifelong pursuit of personal and intellectual growth. This is not a place for those who feel they have learned all they need to learn.
  • Beyond Yourself – We shape our world by leading ethically and responsibly. As stewards of our enterprises, we take the longer view in our decisions and actions. This often means putting larger interests above our own.

Soon after announcing the defining principles to alumni, Dean Lyons received a letter from an alumnus of the class of 1952. The alumnus stated that these principles nailed the culture of the business school when he was a student. Although these principles have long been a part of the culture, articulating them clearly and communicating them to all stakeholders has had a profound effect. The students that we desire are attracted to Berkeley-Hass in part because of this culture. And fit with the defining principles is a key criterion for admissions. The student experience at Berkeley-Haas helps reinforce and build competence around the defining principles. And recruiters who value these attributes are attracted to Berkeley-Haas. The defining principles have had a strong effect on helping build community among the alumni. And finally, these principles have helped Berkeley Haas increase its reputation and ranking among the world’s leading Business Schools.

Do you use values to effectively engage your stakeholders and drive performance for your organization?  

Getting Started: If your organization has been around for a long time then it is important that your core values or defining principles are identified based on the best of what already is. Through appreciative surveys and interviews of employees, suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders you can discover which of your attributes they find most attractive. You can then select the attributes that are most important for your future, articulate them in a way that is unique to your organization, and use them to build on the strengths you already have. If your organization is a start-up and you are defining and shaping your culture it is important to identify attributes that the leadership team will model. Unless the CEO and other leaders are exemplars in “doing what they say” your efforts at driving performance through culture will be wasted.

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