I’ve always thanked my lucky stars that I never had to write a client’s organizational values statement. The secular Ten Commandments of the working world—a list of things that the organization purports to believe—these things always start out with the best intentions. But in the end people always load them down with mushy language. They end up as lofty, aspirational descriptions of “who we should be” than as actual descriptions of “who we are.”
Also, usually they’re way too long to remember. When an employee tries to choose between two courses of action, wading through nine pillars or ten cornerstones or whatever gimmick the company dreams up takes too much time.
Contrast this with Google’s famously terse, hipster-chic values statement:
“Don’t be evil.”
Sadly, this concise masterpiece has now been supplanted by a more traditional code, nearly 900 words long. It morphs “Don’t be evil” into the much more specific:
“Employees of Alphabet [Google’s new holding company] and its subsidiaries and controlled affiliates should do the right thing—follow the law, act honorably, and treat each other with respect.”
You can always tell when a piece of writing has passed through a lawyer’s computer; everything gets spelled out in triplicate. That said, I applaud the change of focus from what employees shouldn’t do to what they should.
Values Statement: My turn? (Really?)
As I said at the beginning of this post, I’ve managed to avoid writing values statements for my clients. But last week I hired an assistant, a recent college graduate, to help me with some of my social media and marketing efforts.
She’s a writer herself, so she’s got the chops for the job. But she hasn’t had a lot of experience working with organizations. And she doesn’t know much about me other than what she’s read in this very blog.
How get her up to speed with who I am and what I do?
At first I thought I’d just write a couple of sentences. But people can forget sentences. I needed something snappy and memorable. I needed—oh, God, do I really? Yes, it was inescapable: I needed a values statement.
Bennett Ink Core Values
Giving GIFTS to everyone we interact with, from long-time clients to casual readers.
“GIFTS” is a mnemonic for the five qualities I want people to associate with me or my work:
*our humor can be sassy with a little attitude, but it’s never sarcastic
It wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. For one thing, I didn’t do it by committee (well, I tried to delegate to Fenway but she doesn’t work during chipmunk season).
For another thing, these aren’t stretch goals—this is really who (I believe) I am. And I often find clients reflecting these values back to me: the woman who listened to my podcast interview and wrote to thank me for my generosity. This feedback from my free elevator speech webinar:
“I got more than I expected. You are a wonderful and very effective communicator.”
That’s what we’re about here at Bennett Ink, “more than I expected.”
Is it cheesy to put that into a mnemonic? Frankly, I don’t care. I’d create a Dr. Seuss rhyme out of it if that’s what it took for my new colleague to remember what kind of behavior and work I expect.
That’s the real purpose of a value statement. Whether it’s for an organization of thousands or one whose “all-hands meeting” could fit at a table in Starbucks.