Talking About What Matters (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This post begins a series on talking about what matters. Great attention is often paid to values in defining and marketing an organization. But what happens after that? It’s the ongoing dialogue about how to apply those values that brings them to life. 

Some leaders assume that if the values are written down, they will be followed. The problem with that assumption is that while people may WANT to follow the organization’s stated values, they may not know how. Until we engage people in conversations about HOW to apply ethical values, they only exist as an “ideal wish list,” not a set of guiding values for day-to-day work. 

Humans Are Meaning-Seeking Creatures

People seek meaning. We’ve known this since ancient times, but we’re still learning how to help them find it. 

Man is “a being in search of meaning.”            –Plato

“Consciously or not, we are all on a quest for answers, trying to learn the lessons of life… We search for meaning.”           –Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”            –Carl Jung

Great leaders make it a priority to help people find the meaning they seek. They take the time to imagine what each person could accomplish, and who they could become. They help them grow into the best of themselves. 

Why Should We Talk About What Matters?

In addition to helping individuals find meaning in their work, conversations about what matters also help guide organizations to the success they seek. 

Ethical values are a framework for generating a positive impact on constituents and the broader global community.

Talking about ethical values, done right, engages the workforce and improves the organization’s metrics in these important ways. 

  • Engaging people’s hearts and minds in figuring out the right things to do in challenging situations

Helping people figure out the right thing to do increases ethical awareness and ethical competence.

  • Building confidence and helping people find meaning in their work

A sense of meaning and purpose improves engagement, retention and job satisfaction.

  • Centering groups and focusing work on positive outcomes for constituents

Focusing on positive outcomes for constituents makes work more satisfying and reduces ethical risk.

  • Driving good decisions and choices based on values

Having ongoing and meaningful conversations about values improves ethical thinking and decision making.

Talking about what matters gives people the grounding they need to find meaning in their work. Helping them understand and apply ethical values improves organizational outcomes.

Ethical values are the secret ingredient in some of the world’s greatest companies. But they don’t reveal their magic when they live on the website and marketing materials. The magic happens when values become active guiding principles. To get there, we’ll need to have some conversations about what matters…

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