Values at Work

Knowing what’s important improves commitment and performance.


I have been reminded of the importance of values in organizational life several times over the last few weeks. It’s interesting what happens when you give explicit attention to something that usually resides quietly in the background. 

Not long ago, I was working with an executive leadership team during their first retreat in about nine years. This was a group of aerospace engineers and scientists; people you might think have little time for “values”. We didn’t set out to talk about values, but they were a constant presence. 

Over the course of two days, conversation kept drifting back to words like responsibility, integrity, excellence, and cooperation.

Virtually all the participants, even the hard-bitten cynics, found the time they spent to have tremendous value for their work and relationships. Creating an opportunity for people to talk together about what is important to them has a very positive impact.

Values serve two purposes in the life of an organization, group, or individual. First, they keep you rooted in what is essential. You know where you stand. Second, and somewhat paradoxically, they make it possible to flex and adapt as circumstances emerge. Having clear values doesn’t make you rigid; rather, it makes it possible for you to know how to adjust to something new. Equally as important, others then know how to adjust to you.

Way back when I founded Campden Hill, I settled on five core values of my own. Not that I invented them or that they are unique; though maybe in this combination they are:

Curiosity / Wonder





Accidentally or by design, I find these values infuse my work nearly every day. Of course, this could be nothing more than the expression of the phenomenon that occurs in everything from social sciences to quantum mechanics: you find what you look for.

Curiosity makes it possible for me to ask lots of questions. Trust and respect allow me to remain open to what I hear in response. Courage enables me to challenge myself and others to reach beyond what we think we already know; to be vulnerable and not rush to judgment. And wisdom is an ongoing pursuit, something that emerges at the end of an experience. If I’m paying attention.

It’s nice to know I’m not alone in holding these values dear. A favorite blogger, Paul Bennett of IDEO recently posted some of his thoughts on trust. I especially like what he says toward the end of the piece: that “[t]rust doesn’t come from knowing, trust is born from safely not knowing.”

Here’s evidence of another of those apparent paradoxes we keep running into: strength, courage, and trustworthiness can come from vulnerability and not knowing.

I’m interested in hearing about how values influence your work and life. What do you say?