How to define a value hierarchy for yourself or your company?

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Have you noticed that some people or companies have their value hierarchies? Have you heard about Scrum values? Would you like to create something similar for yourself or your company? Let’s try.

What is it?

What a value hierarchy is? And values are? Those are abstract concepts (like honesty, courage, easiness) which are important in your personal life or for a business. 

Example – Scrum Values

Maybe you’ve heard about Scrum (very popular way of working in software production) and its values? Courage, Focus, Commitment, Respect, Openness. Why Scrum Guide came up with the list? To share what’s important and which attitude will contribute to success in the understanding of Scrum. It shows what’s actually expected from people, how they should behave and act on daily work – not being controlled by the procedures but more being driven by knowing and sharing the values. 

What is it for?

What are values for? One reason I’ve just mentioned. You can act in the right way not being precisely instructed for every possible situation, but rather making your own decisions on the basis of values. If courage is expected, you do not need to ask for permission twice or hesitate whether it’s a good move or not. Just try it. It’s better to apologize than to do nothing at all (if you share the courage value J).

Values help you to make faster decisions, show expected way of acting. Having them written down we can communicate it to others – partners, customers, employees. They can decide if they have something in common with it (do we have some shared values?), if they want to cooperate or just understand us better (what drives us, why we act this way, why we make certain decisions). You can argue about exact behaviors, chosen solutions, but rarely on a value itself. Is “courage” good or bad? No one can say that the value is bad or stupid or doesn’t make sense. It can be just less important for someone than to the other one. But we all understand it more or less, because we’ve experienced the need of courage some time in our lives.

But be careful here! Maybe you have in mind some empty corporate slogans hanging around the company? Or people saying that health is the most important for them while drinking too much, working too hard and being far from the healthy lifestyle? Don’t do the most common mistakes. 

5 most common problems

No values at all

The first problem is that you don’t know your values at all. You’ve never asked yourself the question – what’s actually the most important for me? You copy what others do, what you think is expected from you in a given role, in certain environment, society. Strangely enough, it bothers you, because it’s not from your inside, it’s not yours. Probably something drives your behavior and decisions, but you may be not aware of it, changing directions, not being consistent.

Just pick something from the list

I came across many exercises to find out your personal values. Most of them were to pick something from the list. What’s wrong with that? You might choose a word you just like, you think it’s nice to have such value, you think you should have this one, and shouldn’t have some other, because it looks bad. The ones you chose might be nice but have nothing to do with you.

Empty declarations

Many people declare that family and health are the most important for them. Those might be the most common values in our population 😉 (at least when it comes to declarations). I guess that you can recall people declaring those values and at the same time being workaholics not having time for their families, drinking, smoking, behaving very far from what they have told.

What does it mean?

If you just pick up some nice words or someone passes to you the values of the company, you might have troubles with understanding what actually do they mean to you, how should they manifest in daily life?

No hierarchy

We’ve told at the beginning that values should help with decision making. Having just a set of values leads to situations when you need to decide which one is more important? If you want to be more committed and help the company with some new activity, you may lose the focus. What’s more important?

Let’s create a value hierarchy for yourself

Only recently I came across an exercise for value discovery, which wasn’t conducted like “pick up something from the list” but in the way I appreciated more – based on facts and what you already do. It was in Mateusz Grzesiak’s Personality Design System course. 

Answer the question

What do you like doing the most? Name 5-10 things.

The answers can be like:

  • Running
  • Learning
  • Reading about psychology
  • Writing
  • Meeting with people
  • Teaching others
  • Earning money
  • Creating products

Do you have your list?

Which value stays behind?

Now, let’s answer the question why do you like it? Different people can do the same things but from different reasons. What’s your reason?

For example – running. Why do you like running? What’s valuable in it for you?

  • Does it give you the chance to be fit, look better? Is self-confidence important to you? Or maybe beauty? Is beauty the goal itself? Or does it serve you to get the self-confidence?
  • Or maybe you run, because you feel like crossing your own boundaries? Power? Impact?
  • Or maybe you run, because this is your way to fight with stress? Is piece important to you?

Let’s find out what’s behind the things you like doing. What are your values? Those should be an abstract concept, you cannot see or touch. Make sure that you dig into the roots – why actually it’s important to you?

What’s the hierarchy?

Compare values one by one – which would you chose over the other one? Change the order so many times that you’ll agree with it reading it top down.

For example – let’s say you came up with the list from previous step:

  • Calm
  • Beauty
  • Development
  • Awareness
  • Freedom
  • Altruism
  • Happiness
  • Closeness
  • Efficiency
  • Impact

Let’s check one by one – what’s more important to you? Would you choose calm over beauty? Imagine some situation when you need to choose. If the ordering is wrong, change it. When analyzing the ordering you may discover that some values contain others. Those more general can be above. You may also come to the conclusion that you don’t need some of them, as they are expressed better in some other value.

You can finish with a hierarchy like that:

  • Development
  • Impact
  • Closeness 
  • Beauty
  • Calm

Once you finish, go through the hierarchy and tell yourself how do you manifest those values on daily basis? Doing what? What do you understand behind them? Is it true that you would devote those higher ones to those on lower levels if you had to choose? 

Congratulations!JYou have your value hierarchy.

Value hierarchy for your company

We can have also company values. How do they differ from personal values?

Create it together

If you have a one-person company, you can base it on your personal values. You can think if you want to manifest all of them or just some selected ones in your professional area. The same when you hire a few persons to work with you as employees. It’s getting more complicated when the company gets bigger, you invite partners to collaborate, there is managing board consisting of few people or even a group of enterprises. Then, the values should be shared. You need to work on them together. If it’s you will to respond better to employee needs, you should involve them as well to create this list of values.

Explain values to people

Once you’ve created values for the company, don’t let people to be surprised by them handing on the wall or getting out of the fridge. The best – involve people in creating them. And explain to the rest – why those values? What do they mean? How the company expects them to be manifested? If people agree with them, they can start to live them. You can also use the values for interviews – checking whether the candidate and the company fits to each other.

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