“Hello, valued customer, your call is very important to us. Now please wait 15 minutes because we don’t want to spend the money to staff our phone lines.”
There was an actual human being who decided to record that message. That actual human being may really have believed that they valued customers. I fervently hope I’m not that person.
Your are your values
Values are an interesting thing. We all have them. They drive our behavior. They determine who we hang out with. They determine our decisions. And when we’re giving our TED talk, we even talk about our values. We list them. We point to their worldly goodness. “Family is what matters most.” Everyone nods. We think we live our values.
The values we proclaim—the ones in our TED talk—may have no relationship to the values we live by. Most of us assume that our lived values correspond to our proclaimed values. Most of us are wrong.
This matters because our lived values are the ones people will judge us by. They’re the values that will determine our reputation and “personal brand.” Those, in turn, will determine who wants to do business with us, who wants to hang out with us, and much of the quality of our emotional lives. The continual neglect of our teenagers’ science fair competitions are what they remember, not the world “family matters most.”
This also matters because presumably we actually want to be living our espoused values! What if we talk about integrity, and really want to be surrounded by people with integrity? What if we talk about respect, and really want to respect people and be respected by them? How can we make this happen?
Know What You Value (and thus, Who You Really Are)
First, list your proclaimed values. This will be easy, because they’re the ones you proclaim. Simply answer the question “what do you value?” off the top of your head. You’ll get the list. Watch your TED talk. You did a great job of listing them there. “I value truth, constructive disagreement, and following through on promises.”
Next, identify where those values drive your behavior. For each of your values, think about the kinds of decisions and tradeoffs where those values would show up. If you value truth, where would that manifest? Perhaps in giving feedback when someone asks if they’ve done a good job. Or when they ask if their current outfit is flattering.
If you value constructive disagreement, that would manifest in conversations with your spouse where you have differing opinions about something important. When it comes to following through on promises, you would look at things you’ve promised, and when (or if) you delivered on those promises.
Lastly, take a hard look at your lived values. Go through the scenarios you identified and notice what you actually did in those situations. Did you give honest feedback, or did you say the easy thing that wouldn’t rock the boat? Did you cave in to your spouse, because it was easier than asserting your own opinion. Do you have excuses at the ready, to show why it was actually reasonable to break all those promises?
This is very hard, because you will find that your lived values don’t match up perfectly to your proclaimed values. Indeed, some people may find that their lived values are the opposite of their proclaimed values. It is far more comforting to live in ignorance, than face the reality that the person who most betrays your values is you.
Now Change: Start Living Your Values
Once you know where the gaps are, you know where to change your behavior. Next time you’re in the situations you identified, consciously behave according to your proclaimed values, instead of your lived values.
This will feel wrong and unnatural! You’ve spent your lifetime deciding to reduce staffing in a call center so you boost profits. Now, you’re making a decision to spend more money to provide better customer service. If that decision felt natural, you would already behave that way. Expect yourself to resist, push back, and generally try to maintain the status quo.
It’s helpful to enlist trusted friends and colleagues in helping me change. You can ask your teenagers, “I want to do a better job of putting family Please tell me when I’m falling down.” They’re teenagers. They’ll tell you. You can ask your work colleagues, “I want to do a better job of living our values of customers-first. Please help me make decisions that reflect that.” You’ll be surprised. If you are sincere in your request, and you act on their feedback, people will be happy to help.
Values are the core of our identity. Our proclaimed values represent the ideal we wish to be. Our lived values represent the person we are. By bringing the two together, you’ll be taking control of both who you genuinely develop to be, and others will come to see you as that same (hopefully awesome) person.