• When in Doubt, Manage by Values

    Years ago when I was faced with thorny decisions as a young manager of a research group, I found that my most reliable reference point was my own set of adopted core values.  The company I worked for did not have an explicit set of values that it stood for.  In fact a Group VP told me that the company was too big and too diverse to have a single set of all-encompassing values.  That company no longer exists.  There are many reasons for that, but I do know when the corporate raiders came calling that there was no rallying point.  There was nothing that said this “this is who we are, this is what we stand for.”  People want a place to stand, people to stand with and something to stand for.


    Absent corporate guidelines I decided that our group needed something to bond us together.  I had discovered a set of guidelines resulting from research on the West Coast on what constitutes a truly creative environment.  It was work done jointly by the University of California Santa Cruz and Kaiser Aluminum Research in Oakland.  Their statements resonated with me and I adopted them, made them my own and presented them to the group in Oklahoma.  They stated that a creative environment had these basic attributes (read core values):

    • Freedom of expression and movement
    • Lack of destructive dissent
    • A willingness to break with custom
    • A spirit of fun coupled with dedication to work
    • Purpose on a grand scale.


    We used this as a set of guidelines that framed our attitude about working together as a group.  We used it as a recruiting tool and we held one another accountable to adhering to these broad principles.  Everyone could remember them.  We did not need a shelf full of procedure manuals.  Even if we had had corporate values like honesty, integrity, a good member of the community, we still would have adopted this framework because it did not contradict any norms of common courtesy, decency, and good sense and it felt more applicable to our situation.


    When the professionals and I engaged in our frequent one-on-one conversation we would talk about shared values.  It was a common launching point for talking about personal values and how those values worked within this framework.  We talked about how values could help frame long-term personal goals and assist in career decision-making and ultimately establish a best-fit pathway for everyone into the future.


    I do not advocate that everyone adopt this set of values.  My point is that every group needs some set of agreed upon guidelines to provide anchors in the midst of uncertainty and chaos.  What we did provide was dependable stability for that group at that time.  We enjoyed ten years with no unwanted attrition.  We weathered the inherent ups and downs of the energy industry and helped the company sustain technical respect in the industry.


    What can you do to bond your work group together as a stable unit committed to one another and shared values in turbulent times?

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