As with most people, my earliest values were created by my parents and the education system. Learning to share, to dress and speak appropriately, to raise my hand in class and otherwise to fit in, are lessons every child learns. It is an unconscious act really, and if anyone were to have asked us to define our values then, we probably would have been quite stunned.
My first real exposure to understanding my own values came when I began my studies as a Life Coach. In short, I learned that if you are upset, then someone has probably stomped on your values. By examining times of unhappiness and anger in my life (yes, there has been a few), I began to see some patterns emerge:
- I like to contribute and add value, I want to make a difference;
- I want to be recognized for the value I add;
- I value open and honest feedback;
- I despise situations where value is assigned based on the hierarchy;
- I value transparency and honesty tempered with compassion;
- I value learning and growth and I am not afraid to learn from my mistakes.
I was definitely unhappy in situations where my input and efforts were seeming undervalued and unappreciated. I guess you could say that somewhere in my mid-forties, I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I guess it is better late than never!
That is when I started my role as a Continuous Improvement Specialist and began to apply my life coaching and Lean techniques to help my peers improve their work situations. I helped a team of 400 to identify and tackle issues in their daily work that frustrated them or caused them to waste a lot of time, particularly as downsizing efforts were put in place in order to get them to “work smarter”. Have you ever noticed that people tell you to “work smarter” when the workload becomes unbearable but that they never, ever tell you how?
During my last 15 years in telecommunications, I helped many teams to become happier and more efficient in their work. Some teams saved money, but in other teams the value was in better relationships, and still others were able to stem the tide of ever-rising banked overtime and unused vacation allotments.
I really did not yet understand the value of values though, until I expanded my reading and training to truly become an Agilist. As I learned about Scrum, the Toyota Production System, Kanban, etc; I began to realize that each one of these approaches were underpinned by their own sets of values.
How could I have used all the tools of Lean for fifteen years without ever having seen a list of the fourteen Toyota principles and how closely they aligned with the four values and twelve principles of the Agile Manifesto. As I began to teach Scrum and Aglie to my clients and watched their successes and challenges, it became increasingly clear that the tools and techniques I was teaching were more likely to bring value to organizations that also lived by the values.
In fact, if organizations do not recognize how they provide value to their customers, they are less likely to be in tune with their changing needs. More importantly, if they do not align with the values held by their employees, they are doomed to either lose good people or drive them to mediocrity for the sake of keeping them under control.
In short, the tools without the values are like a sandwich on dry bread with no butter, filling or toppings: very unsatisfying and not particularly sustaining!