I’ve spent the last couple of decades believing the surest way for any team, tribe, enterprise or community to realize its mission is to identify and build around a set of shared values. 

The premise is simple. A group will rarely agree on everything. The identification of a set of common values provides a framework against which strategy, investments and actions can be tested.

Does a particular direction run counter to shared values? If so, it threatens the mission, and should be abandoned or reconstituted.

Shared values are the fabric of culture.

But it turns out I have been cutting the conversation short

Strong groups (of any ilk) intuitively understand that alignment around what we share is the initial hurdle to be cleared in pursuit of any goal. Shared values unite us.

But the testy part of this conversation is wrapped up in that word “shared.” The larger and more diverse a group, the more challenging it can be to identify and agree on the values that are intentionally shared.

What Is Nonnegotiable?

So the more diverse a group the more helpful it becomes to identify the nonnegotiable — What is so central to who we are that it drives every consequential decision. Every action.

Two words of caution: (1) this list cannot be long; and (2) this isn’t about more talk or eloquent copy for a website.

Culture is not derived from proclamation or rhetoric. It is built upon a foundation of what we demonstrably value most. All the words we can spew notwithstanding, the sum of our actions make it clear what we really care about.

If increasing wealth or power is valued above everything, it will manifest in a culture defined by the pursuit of gain…no matter how loudly we pledge commitment to DEI, mental health and service.

If winning is the only thing that matters, we should not feign shock when the culture demonstrates a propensity to do whatever it takes…no matter what rules might be broken or who it slights. Or destroys. 

The Inconvenient Truth

When integrity and intellectual honesty are not among the foundational values, trust erodes. When truth becomes mailable in pursuit of any goal or mission, culture is inevitably fractured.

Spin the narrative all you care to. Where “the-end-justifies-the-means” is an accepted strategic framework, the truth is increasingly inconvenient. And irrelevant.

A culture that inspires, grows and has what it takes to survive even the darkest hour — is honest about what is central to its identity and purpose.

Teams, companies and communities that muster the strength, garner the support and change the shape of today’s reality come together around clear, nonnegotiable core values…giving rise to an indestructible cultural fabric.

A Moment Of Truth

Soundbites and rhetoric will change little.

The groups we join…the causes we embrace…the cultures with which we engage…our individual actions — these reveal what is most important to us.

It is never too soon or too late to unite around and act upon who we are and what we value most.