Values and living them

· February 14, 2018

As a consultant, you get to see many, different organizations and look deeply into what makes them tick. This is a great benefit of my job, but at the same time quite hard to find from time to time. The reason for that is that most organizations have very lofty and worthy values but what is lived out is something else.

But I’ve found… who am I kidding … stolen a way that make values more tangible and important in our everyday life. It’s a simple trick that you can start using tomorrow.

Regarding these lofty values I mentioned in the intro, you know what I’m talking about, right? The values are words and statements that basically no-one would disagree with:

  • Fun! Have you heard anyone say; No - I'm not fun. I don't want to be part of that
  • Professional! - BAH! That's a fad. It will pass
  • Open - No. No. No! We are closed! How many times do I have to tell you…

This is easy to make fun of these of course, but there’s a more serious flip side to this. Because these words are written down for a reason, and with some serious after-thought;

These values paints a picture of the way we want to be or the way we think we are. If we don’t honor these values … we are not we.

Woah… we want to be us, now don’t we?

The problem is that the values and culture of the company are present if we write it down or not. Writing a few words down a nice wall doesn’t automatically make these values ours. Even if you print it on a paper next to each desk, or have an awesome screensaver with them.

Because the values and culture are created in our interactions with each other. It’s a living thing.

Imagine, if you will, a company that grows (I’m making this up, from 2-3 experiences btw). We start with 4 founders that have an easy time sharing values. It just who we are. We hire people we know and we continue to share values and foster a common culture. We don’t even need to write it down. It’s just how we are.

Even when we are 20 people there’s no problem. Culture governance comes almost automatic. But now we buy another company. A bunch of new values enters. And soon we need a finance department or an IT-department - and they bring their own values.

So we write our values down; Fun! Professional! Open! Well… the problem is that they mean different thing to different people. Do you think IT-people have a different interpretation of “Fun” compared to Finance-people? (<= rhetorical question. Every person has a different take).

What to do then?

Ok, enough with the gloomy; bring a solution to all of this!

Well… just as with most things you want to change in yourself you need to live it. Someone said:

Be the change you want to see.

It’s when we start to use the lofty values and motivational phrases in our stories about our behavior that we not only share our understanding of them but also reinforce how they are guiding us to a better tomorrow.

This is a great little mind trick that I picked up from David Marquet’s book ‘Turn the Ship Around’. It’s awesome - read it now! They started to use their values when they described each other’s behavior.

Let’s try it out. My goal here is to see if the values would help us to spot behavior that aligns with the values or not. After all, that is what the values are for - help us to align with behavior and steer us to a common culture that makes us stronger together.

I have the awesome opportunity to work for Spotify right now. Great place and great values. Let’s have some fun, using their values to describe some hypothetical behaviors that I’m making up.

Nothing of this has happened in reality. These musings are just my own for this post, I’m just trying out a theory using the awesome values of Spotify as an example. For example, I don’t know an Anna at the company. Disclaimer over. But true.

We’re innovative!

The first phrase is absolute key for Spotify and focuses on always thinking innovative. Let’s use it in a sentence:

Anna was very innovative during the hack week last month. Her hack failed but we learned a great deal from her sharing what made it fail. Great work, Anna!

Anna - I would never have thought of trying Node as a backend service for our data volumes! Nice innovation!

Yes! That is what we want to see. It works. Let’s see it fail too

Marcus helped us being innovative yesterday when he shut down 3 of 4 ideas for hacks as ‘not feasible’

When Marcus made it very clear that failure is not an option - well I tell ya… that really trigged my innovation spirit!

Well… that’s not innovative. And it shows clearly.

We’re collaborative!

One of the things that stand out on day one when you get to the Spotify organization is how much they are helping each other. I’ve blogged about that before without revealing the company name (psst - all Spotify for the good stuff).

Let’s try it:

Anna, thanks for you collaborative spirit yesterday. I heard you went over to the other office and helped team X to set up their data for our common testing, without them asking. Thanks!

Perfect! Lovely collaborative spirit!

And what about the opposite - would we spot it.

Great collaboration yesterday, Marcus. That you sit in an isolated part of the office for hours upon end really helps us be more than individuals.

“I don’t care you do it - just do it. I tell. You do.” Those sentences in the email to all of us really put us into collaboration mode, Marcus. Thanks.

No no no… that is not right. Good. It fails as expected.

We’re sincere!

Since the collaboration is tight and frequent we need a very clear communication. There cannot be politics, hidden agendas or “being nice and not telling” since that would muddle our interactions.

This is another thing that hits you in the face as you enter Spotify. I’ve been shut down in meetings more times here than in all other clients together. At first, I was offended but then I saw through it and realized that it was for the greater good.

Anna - thanks for your sincerity! I realize that saying that we are going to be late on the important report must have been hard to do. Thank you! Now we know where we are and what we need to do to get out of here

Let’s see the failing Marcus in action:

Marcus, great sincerity yesterday when you said something in the meeting and then showed what you really meant at the coffee machine for everyone else to hear. That really undermined both me and the importance of the meeting. That’s sincerity, right there!


The sincerity of doing a deal with the company, without telling us, just because you know the founders are great.

Oh my God - what’s his problem?! Opposite of what we wanted. Let’s leave this and move on.

We’re passionate!

Here Spotify talks about their passion is the thing that drives them, the makes them bold and wanting to take big bets.

Anna is so passionate. She just lights up when you talk about the content distribution version 3.6. It’s contagious!

Thanks Anna for your passion! That was a bold bet we took, but you made us all believe in it.

Yes! Great stuff, Anna! I see many Anna’s across the company and now it starts to make sense what passionate means.

Let’s try the opposite:

That way that you always brings up the fact that work needs to be done because they have been in the backlog “like forever,” Marcus. That shows your passion for our product in a great way.

Ok - that is not the kind of passion I meant at least.


Spotify talks a lot about having fun at work. And they really live up to this in many places and situations! Have you followed their support account on Twitter - they are oozing Playful! There are many other examples from reality, so I’ll just make up one of my own

Playful was taken to new levels of geeky when Anna formatted the log file in “Happy New Year” using ASCII art for the New Years Eve. You crazy geek, you!

And Marcus, what is he up to?

Very playful spirit, voting for no decorations in public facing areas. Our professional appearance is more important. True!

Yes! Keeping the sound in the office to a minimum is very important. Not sudden burst of music and playfulness. Unless it is in the designated areas and times. Good point, Marcus. I’ll add it to the PM and we will circulate it for maximum compliance across the company.

Well… he is not just following our values now, is he? Is he working for another company? With other values? Or does we just not share the definition of playful?


My simple tip is this:

Use the values of the company when you describe the behaviour you want to see.

Do not do the negative thing, the “Marcus”-versions above, at least not in public. Do much more of the positive. Hey - do only that! Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool.

I think that we generally speak in terms of our values too seldom and too little. These values outline who we are - let’s keep that front and center!

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