The Value of Valuing Your Values

Posted on October 11, 2022


Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Matt Horn, the Director of Local Government Services for MRB Group, and a reported write-in candidate for the Nobel Prize in Procrastination (source not cited).

  • What I’m Reading:  “The Poor Side of Town and Why We Need It“, by Howard Husock
  • What I’m Listening To:  The Remastered Rolling Stones “Sticky Fingers” Album…and anything else in a score for a Scorsese film…
  • What I’m Watching:  Scorsese films…duh…

In my work, both internally with my own team, and with local government clients, I heavily rely on the old Simon Sinek text, “Start With Why.”  If you’re not familiar with the premise, Sinek roots some really good lessons and advice on the concept of the Golden Circle.  For a quick and amazing primer, check out his world-renowned TED Talk.

There has been much written about finding your WHY.  It should always be the first step, and is the most valuable exercise you will undertake in any initiative.  The WHAT is usually the simplest to land on–it flows effortlessly from WHY.  Today, I want to focus on the unsung hero in the Golden Circle–the HOW.  In business, and sometimes in government, this can be referred to as your value proposition, or your governing principles.  In my personal life, I connect this most to my core values.  If your organization hasn’t landed on a value set or a set of planning/governing principles, delay no more!

When I am working with communities on their values or planning principles, I describe these as the guardrails of everyday operations–the DNA of your operations.  Long range and strategic plans are fantastic for charting a course toward your envisioned future.  But, hey, life happens.  Not only is it infeasible to try to list out every project you want completed in the next fifteen years, but it is largely a waste of time.

Economic conditions, demographics, science…it changes every single day.  Add up these changes over the next fifteen years, and try to imagine the kind of world we’ll live in.  Additionally, as a local government leader, you likely get project ideas every day from every direction–ranging from the intriguing to the farcical.  These won’t show up in any plan, but you’ll still need to evaluate them, and to pivot when it makes sense.  How can you do that, you ask?  With a well-defined set of community values…

But…how…do I get to…HOW…?  Great question.  The answer is close to the same for you, personally, and for your organization/community.  These all require a deep process of self-discovery, and more questions than you can shake a stick at.  Asking yourself questions is the first step:

  1. When have I (our organization, our community) been most happy/fulfilled?
  2. When have I performed at my very best?
  3. Who are other people (organizations, communities) that I admire?

After answering each of these questions, ask yourself, your team, or community stakeholders–why?  Why was I proud?  Why did we perform at our best?  Why do I admire Geneva, New York (great City Manager, obviously)?  Chances are, even though these are three different questions, the answers to why will start to overlap.  If you’re like me, you work better with examples.  Head over to Altavista (or any other search engine that floats your boat) and search “Core Value Lists”, and you’ll be inundated with plenty of examples.

Once you have your list, prioritize.  Which do you feel strongest about?  Which are close to one another and can be combined into a single value or dropped in favor of one?  Try to get the list down to ten.  Then down to five (or three!).  Welcome to your new(ly discovered) value set!  Write these on your omnipresent whiteboard and stare at them.  Sit with them.  Let them soak in for a week.  Are these still it?  If so, congrats.  If not, go back to the list and repeat.

One last word on HOW.  Sinek posits that, to be sustainably successful we must have clarity around our WHY; consistency with WHAT; and discipline of HOW.  Once you define your values, and shout them from the rooftops, people are going to hold you accountable to them.  If you tout “environmental stewardship” as a core value, then skimp on water quality or wastewater treatment, people will feel muddy about your values (and your water), and your success will be jeopardized.

So, build in some accountability–grade yourself often on adherence to values, and impress yourself with your discipline!


Close window