What Is At Your Core (Values)?

“Values are best described in terms of behavior: If we operate as we should, what would an observer see us doing?”  –Peter Senge

In the 70’s and 80’s Tootsie “rolled” out a very popular cartoon commercial for their Tootsie Roll Pop.  A slogan, or question that not only provoked inquiry, but dared each of us to determine, “how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?”  A question that many a kid took to heart.  A question that each of us wanted to discover and answer for ourselves.  You might even say Tootsie Roll set off an explosion of collective inquiry between many a child.

In this commercial, a young boy takes his question on a quest for an answer…first stop, Mr. Turtle, who curtly responds with “he can never make it to the end without biting”.  And with that, Mr. Turtle urges our young explorer to take his question to Mr. Owl.  Upon offering the question up to Mr. Owl…Mr. Owl snatches the Tootsie Roll Pop from his hand and replies “let’s find out”…and counts “one, two, and three” and whumpf, he bites off the Tootsie Roll pop… and proudly responds to the boy the answer of “three”.  Leaving the young man to slunk away in frustration.

And so often, when we don’t do the things necessary as leaders to create the right conditions and environments in our organizations, our own people are left feeling as frustrated as the young boy in the commercial.  That is why this Tootsie Roll commercial serves as a powerful visual reminder for those leading their organizations as a Professional Learning Community (PLC).

Very often “Mr. Owl” and his actions serve as the prototype for how we lead our teams and organizations as a PLC.  We have a tendency to view the center of the “Tootsie Roll Pop” as the real work, the work that we need to urgently attend to if we are going to get results and real change.  So as our Mr. Owl, we often give only lip service to the processes that lead towards the ‘real work’. Processes such as determining our norms, protocols and shared or core values.  In other words, our impatience takes us to the center long before we appropriately address and determine the “licks” that provide the parameters for us to effectively do the ‘real work’.

And that serves as a culprit or cause for why many teams and organizations go off the rails in implementing and operating as a Professional Learning Community.  We gloss over the “licks” to get to the center or the ‘real work’.  We fail to realize the “licks” are vital to the current and ongoing success of the processes within our PLC.

Unfortunately, when we fail to invest our time and efforts in creating clarity around our norms, protocols and core values we are creating the ‘perfect storm’ for our teams to face future dysfunction and often outright failure.  Our leadership or lack thereof can create the conditions that eventually lead to failure.  The very same leadership will often blame the players and teams when the process fails, even though this leadership gap is reason for the dysfunctional behaviors and demise of the work.

When leaders understand that it is vital to put the necessary time and energy up front to determine the shared or core values that will guide their work, they increase their effectiveness and raise the level of results exponentially .  Yet, PLC leaders inevitably have a tendency to assume that since we are all educators and we share the same building that we also share the same values.  And that would be a costly and misguided assumption.

When we haven’t determined the shared or core values that drive our actions and behaviors as a learning organization, then how can we as leaders, colleagues, and teammates hold each other accountable?  How can we say which behaviors and actions are in line with our core values if those values haven’t even been determined by and for the people within the organization?

In fact, very often leadership will try to hold people accountable for ‘assumed values’ rather than shared or core values of the organization.  And when that happens, we are holding others accountable to our own. personal set of core values.  Which may or may not be aligned.  But time and time again we see leaders and colleagues holding PLC team members accountable for behaviors and actions they consider outside of the core values, even though those core values have never been thrown on the table for all to discuss and determine.

And that is why great organizations understand the importance of having a ‘shared or core set of values’.  A great example of an organization that makes their ‘core values’ a prominent feature of their business model is Zappos.  Their ‘core values’ are prominently placed for all to see and serve as the foundation of all that they do…

“As we grow as a company, it has become more and more important to explicitly define the core values from which we develop our culture, our brand, and our business strategies.  These are the ten core values that we live by:

“Zappos Family Core Values”

Deliver WOW through service

Embrace and drive change

Create fun and a little weirdness

Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded

Pursue growth and learning

Build open and honest relationships with communication

Build a positive team and family spirit

Do more with less

Be passionate and determined

Be humble

Zappos does not just post and frame these ‘core values’ as a finished, yet forgotten piece on their leadership checklist.  Rather, they make their core values prominent for all to see.  They push them right to the front and say, ‘this is who we are’.  And as an employee or customer, you are given a true sense of who Zappos is and what you can expect when you interact with their organization.  There is true clarity for the behaviors and actions for which they hold themselves accountable.  

Zappos is an example of the power of determining and clarifying your shared or core values.  And those same shared or core values drive the behaviors and actions of the entire organization…they provide an expectation for which all leaders, teammates, and colleagues can be held accountable.  An accountability that really serves as a support to creating a safe and trusting work environment for the entire organization.

Let’s be honest…it is easier to skip or gloss over the process of determining your shared or core values.  The ‘real work’ is too important to waste time in this arena.  Why is it so important to make ourselves accountable to a determined set of expectations?  So, let’s explore the ‘why’ or necessity for creating a ‘shared or core set of values’ to guide our behaviors and actions as a professional learning organization…

An organization is very similar to a family and within a family we know the importance of shared values…values that determine how we act, interact, and behave within our family unit.  Those values are vital for creating a trusting and nurturing  atmosphere for each of us to grow within.  Families that lack shared values can often be dysfunctional.  It is hard to feel safe and build trust in an atmosphere where we don’t know how people will react and behave…where we are unsure of their actions.  It creates and causes tension.

Well, the same is true in our teams and organizations.  When you are always unsure of how others are going to behave or act, you fail to build a trusting and safe environment.  Failing to determine your shared or core values is a ticket to dysfunction.  Many struggling or failed organizations have failed to determine these core values.  Whereas, it serves as an expectation in successful organizations.  Organizations like Zappos get it…

In Professional Learning Communities at Work…shared or core values are one of the four building blocks of a successful learning community.  The authors understand their importance and necessity.  As the DuFours and Eaker put forth…”it challenges the people within that organization to identify the specific attitudes, behaviors, and commitments they must demonstrate in order to advance toward their vision.”  And furthermore,  “The message is consistent and clear.  Learning organizations are not content merely to describe the future they seek; they also articulate and promote the attitudes, behaviors, and commitments that must exist to create that future.”

We make sure to bring everyone together to determine our mission…we spend a lot of time looking at building our vision of the future…and yet, we often gloss over our shared or core values.  And like a chair… our Professional Learning Communities stand on four legs…mission, vision, values, and goals.  Without one, the others are weakened and the chair falls over.  Make sure that your Professional Learning Community is standing strongly on all four legs.


2 thoughts on “What Is At Your Core (Values)?

  1. Great post, and love the tootsie roll metaphor!

    One of the most interesting things, to me, about Zappos, is that their organizational core values are not the same as Tony Hsieh’s personal core values. Tony was smart enough to know that the values of his employees was what mattered most.

    There’s a lot being written right now about the end of the hero-leader. Wheatley of course has been saying this for awhile, that in a complex adaptive system there really is no leader per se. Personally I’m a Satir fan so my “ideal”model is the butterfly mobile where people take turns leading, so not quite leaderless, but definitely a more democratic and egalitarian model to strive towards. I also like the Web of Inclusion model as described by Helgesen.

    I’m wondering if you have read Tribal Leadership?


  2. The easiest time for any organization or PLC is once the core values have been set. However, as time goes by, team members change and corporate memory is less existant. That is why it is so important to review and if necessary re-establish the core values of your division, school, team every single year. This activity is certainly supported by gurus of PLC’s and effective schools.

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