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I Am, or I Do? A Strategic Values Chicken or the Egg Conundrum

Dreams or RealityNearly 400 years ago, a French Traveler lay on his bed and asked himself how he knew he was not some character from a dream; that he was real. He finally came to the conclusion, “Je pense, donc, Je suis” (“I think, therefore,  I am”). You may not be able to prove or disprove that I exist, but I know that I exist.

400 centuries later, we continue to ask ourselves the same question. I sat with my family a few weeks ago, watching an old “Doctor Who” episode where the characters we had come to know and love, turned out to be creations of an alien computer invasion simulation. The characters themselves thought that they were real.

In a related thought, I often teach in my personal finance classes that our self-worth should be placed in our values, not in our valuables. Our identification should not be tied to what we own or possess but to the beliefs we hold closest to our core.

What do either of these thoughts have to do with strategic planning? Who we are is at the very core of our existence. Our view of ourselves includes our ability to think and to reason. We identify ourselves by what we value, not what we do. We know we exist because our thoughts exist, and they lead us to action.

Yet time after time, strategic planners ask meeting participants to identify their purpose first and then fit their values into that purpose. That can, at times, be like trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

The same can be said of our hiring and performance management systems. We focus our hiring process solely on what the potential employee can do but ask little about who they are at their core. Later, when they are confronted by difficult questions or ethical dilemmas, they will turn to their core values for guidance. Why should we be surprised or even disappointed that they too often choose to follow paths incongruous with the leader’s principles?

In business, as in life, if they do not match up, values will, in the end, trump mission and vision statements. Mismatched values and missions means misery for the leader and confusion for the followers.

In the strategic planning process, establish core values first means asking what the organization stands for. With such values identified, the employee has a much better guide for what to do when he or she encounters a new scenario or conflicting decisions.

And those values should be stated as actions, not some inert belief. If your values do not exist, how do you know what your purpose is? Is that purpose real if it cannot be validated by your values? Bonnes questions!

Looking for a facilitator for your next planning session, click here or call Todd at (208) 649-4788.

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