Waking up after Tet is like arising on one of those days when you feel full of energy, electrified with possibility, and ready to go out and savor everything the world has to offer.
The Vietnamese Lunar New Year is about change and renewal. The old is kissed goodbye, the new embraced, and everyone looks for signs that the coming months will bring good luck, prosperity, and opportunities to laugh and love.
What better time to start thinking about a new theme for my blog?
And so every January I start considering different blog options. Just see what inspires (or appalls) me, and respond? Develop a theme, and try to stick to it for twelve months? Hard to decide, but eventually Tet comes and goes, and I have to make a choice.
So here you have it – for the Year of the Dragon, I’ve decided to spend the entire year talking about values. It’s my belief that great organizations are defined by the values they inculcate in their community – staff, allies, board, advisors, partners, friends and family. Next month, I’ll launch this series by talking about generosity, and why this particular value is so crucial to building great organizations.
But what does “great” really mean in terms of organizations? You may have heard of the book Good to Great, which defines great as above-average market returns for private companies. Great can also mean “big”: think of huge companies like Exxon or enormous NGOs like Save the Children. But for the word “great” to have any real meaning, it can’t simply be about profit margin or size.
In fact, being great is all about selecting, and adhering to, a set of core values that connect individuals with the institution. No single value can possibly make an individual or organization great; it has to be part of a mutually reinforcing network. We’d all agree, I think, that honesty is an important value. But you can be both honest and ineffectual, or honest and lazy. Would you want it said about you, “She’s really honest, but never gets anything done?”
It’s also true that to build a great organization made up of great people, you sometimes have to make hard choices. If there are people who are unable or unwilling to uphold the values of the organization, they have to go.
Now, if you’re wondering whether values are really so important, let me tell you about a conversation I once had with a C-Suite executive from a major American corporation. At one point he burst out saying, “The dumbest people in the world are graduates of this country’s top MBA programs.” He then regaled me with tales of major business mistakes, made mostly by people with huge amounts of intellectual ability – and stunted values.
Here’s something to think about if you want to be a great success working for a great organization, you’d better exercise your values. I’ll tell you how to do that in eleven easy lessons this year, and if you have ideas to contribute, please send them my way. By the end of the year, we’ll have a definition of what makes a great organization, made up of great people. I hope you’ll stick with me for the journey.