Why Are You Here: A Framework To Understand Values

July 20, 2018

Two years ago, I became curious as to why people work for my organization and started to ask people a deceptively simple question, “why are you here?”. Expecting to be enlightened, instead I received blank stares and non-responses. Disappointed at first, I started to sympathize with my team realizing that this is a difficult question to answer.

As a leader, I felt a responsibility to help my team, help me, understand what they value and why. Over a few months, I passively thought about how to answer this question. And started to poll a few people, inside and outside my organization, to help uncover the possible reasons anyone would work for any organization. With contributions from thoughtful friends, I developed a framework to answer this important question: why are you here.

The Framework

These are the five possible values that inform why anyone works at any organization:

Mission & Purpose: I value the problems that my organization is trying to solve, believe them to be meaningful and feel inspired to play a role in helping advance our mission.

Growth & Development: I value the opportunity to learn new skills and gain new experiences professionally, with less concern for the specific domain we are working in.

People & Community: I value the culture and environment greatly. Building meaningful connections with others, both inside and outside the organization, is important to me.

Recognition & Compensation: I value being rewarded financially or being recognized, privately or publicly, for my contributions to the organization.

Wellness & Balance: I value feeling supported and encouraged to practice work-life balance, have flexibility in my schedule or location or not feeling stressed on a day-to-day basis.

After building this framework, I shared it with my team and then asked the question, “why are you here?”. People found it easy to answer this difficult and also to explain what these values meant to them. The responses were enlightening for me, bringing new awareness and greater curiosity to really understand what my team values and why.

What I have learned

We have systematized this into our culture. Every six months, people are asked to share with me why they are here. Here is what I’ve learned so far:

Diversity: everyone is not here for the same reasons. This is a leadership challenge, as it signals a commitment to support and recognize diversity in values. When I first started my business, I believed everyone was here for the same reasons I was and would take a ‘peanut-butter’ approach (i.e. spreading things evenly). If it’s community, let’s host regular team socials. If it’s growth, let’s bring in subject matter experts. If it’s compensation, let’s give everyone options. What I have learned (and have the data to prove now) is that people value different things and this requires that as a leader, I personalize my approach to incent, motivate and reward people for it to be effective.

Impermanence: after four rounds of asking people what they value, I have learned that people’s values change. And this should be no surprise since as people, we are continually changing. This once again is a leadership challenge, to not only recognize the diversity in values but also the impermanent nature of values. In each round (six months apart), at least two-thirds of the team changes at least one value (we ask them to select their top 3 from the list of 5).

Awareness: early on, most people shared one value (from their top three) that was a surprise to me. This awareness is crucial as a leader and helped me understand that I should not assume that I know what people value. Inviting people to share often what they value has led to rich and meaningful conversations that I know are appreciated.

How we use the framework

Every six months (as part of our semi-annual review process), I ask every team member to complete this simple one-page template. I am asking them to rank their top 3 (of the list of 5) values, their level of satisfaction, to explain in one-sentence why it’s important to them and what their expectations are.

I share the aggregate results and my analysis with the team after each round. This level of transparency builds trust that I am listening.

Here is the template if you are interested in adopting this with your team (many of my friends in leadership roles have adopted it successfully since I first published it).

Additionally, when recruiting new people to our team, I will ask them to share with me what their top 3 values are and why. This supports meaningful conversations and allows me to evaluate whether I believe we can deliver on their expectations.

Here is a short video of our team speaking about the framework.

I’m grateful to Jay Vidyarthi, Lou Pino and Afraj Gill for being involved in the process to develop this framework, and to my team at Polar for adopting this framework with full openness to help me understand what they value and why.

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