Do you know your core values?

We had an IT Community Senior Leadership Team retreat this week during which we attended a workshop on the ‘New World of Work’. The discussions reminded me, among other things, of the importance of knowing your personal core values, the alignment of shared values in a team, and the power of working off those shared values.

Personal values have always been a huge guiding principle for me, and I make most of my big decisions relative to alignment with those values. While that usually happens subconsciously, the training reminded me to check in on my values again deliberately.

Do you know your core values?

Our core values – whether we are aware of them or not – define how we think and guide our decisions. They also have a significant impact on whether we’re happy and satisfied or not. Core values made me seek new jobs and leave existing ones. They made me push for extensive life changes. Whenever my situation aligned with my core values, I was happy and felt accomplished. When I had made choices for other reasons (e.g., money), I usually was frustrated and often times felt miserable after a short time.

As I said, I was curious and revisited my values to see if they had changed. They didn’t.

Here are the core values I hold dear and close to my heart:

  • Family
  • Integrity
  • Autonomy

I would encourage you to reflect on your core values as well if you haven’t done so lately. Share them with your coworkers if you feel like doing so, or keep them as your own personal guiding star.

Getting down to three core values is much harder than you would think. Most people can easily brainstorm their 10-15 most important values, but how do you pick the three that matter most (and if you’re like me, you cannot really consistently memorize or handle any list that is larger than three entries)?

Here are two ways to explore your three core values:

  1. Write down your 10-15 values on flip cards – one core value per card. Then give away three of them. Then another three. Then two more. Keep going until you’re down to the remaining three that you would fight for really hard. You will see that it gets really painful as you get closer to the three. There are values that you really like, they’re just not your top three, and you have to give them away.
  2. Use an app to guide (i.e., force) you through the process. On the iPhone, I found this free app that does a pretty good job: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/valuescardsort/id1510029675. What I like about the app is that it’s easy, quick, and intuitive. What I liked less is that you are limited to the values the programmer put into it.

Go explore or revisit your core values!

If you’re interested, here are the values that the app came back for me. Mostly the same; I think the difference is semantics. Pick whatever way of exploration you like best.

  • Self-care
  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Authenticity
  • Independence

Did you like this post? Want to read more?

Check out our book for more thoughts and a week-by-week guide to make strategic changes to improve your health, career, and life purpose:

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First
A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: PaperbackKindle

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Effective communications – The Why, What, and How

Effective communication is one of the most important skills as we advance in our careers and lives. The more senior we become, the more we need to achieve things through others. To do so, we first need to convince them to follow our lead. Even if we’re not on the brink of a CEO promotion, we need to convince our peers, managers, or spouses of our ideas.

Communication happens in many different channels, in writing, in meetings, or in 1:1 conversations. The principles of effective communication are always the same: 1) active listening, 2) maintaining a laser-focus on the topic, and 3) a clear thought structure that our partner(s) can follow along.

Today I want to talk about 3) – structuring our thoughts and communication in a way that makes it easy for the recipient to digest, follow along, and buy into our logic. The magic is to always explain the Why, What, and How – in that order!

The Why, What, and How are critically important to convey any idea or suggestion. In presenting ideas, we need to remind ourselves that while we have all the context, causation, and details, our communication partners most likely don’t. Don’t assume everyone has as much context on the topic as you do! – If they did, they would have brought up the idea to you, not the other way around.

If you don’t re-create the full thought context with your communications partner, you cannot expect them to come to the same conclusions that you came to or to agree with your proposal.

The Why

This is also affectionately called the ‘So What’.

Everything starts with this. Tell me why I should care to listen and follow your thoughts. Why does this matter? Why does it matter to me? Why is it important, and why should I care?

If you can establish why a particular topic is important or why a problem needs to be solved, you have already won have the battle. On the flip side, if you don’t have a Why it will be hard to gain support for your idea – there are so many things that already have a strong Why established and thus will take priority.

The What

Ok, you got me with the Why. I know that I need to pay attention, now tell me what needs to be fixed or created.

Don’t get ahead of yourself; don’t jump to solutions. I’m not yet ready for that. I’ve signed up for your cause. Now let me know where I need to direct my attention. If you can get me focused on the right what, you have practically won, and I will crave to learn what I can do for you.

The How

NOW is the time to get to what you wanted to start with. Not a second earlier. For you, this is a long build-up to something that is crystal-clear to you – for me, it’s essential for being able to follow your thoughts.

How can we solve the issue we identified in the What and established as a priority in the Why. Tell me what you want to do and where I can help. What is your plan, where do you need input, where can I help. Be specific, precise, and concise.

Well…?

Let’s put some meat to the theory with an example. Let’s say you want to sell the idea of establishing a weekly metrics review meeting for Ops tickets (totally made up).

A bad communication would be:

“Hey, I want to identify key metrics for the ticketing systems. We should change some of the ways we measure them and then have a weekly review meeting with the Ops team.”

Most likely, my (unspoken) reaction as a recipient would be either “???”, or “sure, now leave me alone, I have important work to do”.

A better Why/What/How approach could be:

“I noticed that we are really slow with certain tasks while onboarding new employees. Often they don’t get proper access to their systems for more than two weeks. That delays their onboarding, and we’re practically wasting their resources for the first month.

I looked a little closer at the process, and it seems that Ops tickets are a key contributor to those delays. However, we don’t have good metrics for tickets right now, and so we can’t really diagnose where the problem lies or how to fix it.

What I would suggest is to establish a consistent way to measure the performance of such tickets. With that, we can identify key bottlenecks, brainstorm potential improvement areas, and measure if those improvements have the desired impact over time. What do you think about establishing key metrics and reviewing them with Ops leaders every week?”

You would have caught my attention on the second one, as no one likes employees who are eager to contribute but are constraint by systems or processes.

Bonus tips for emails

  • Spend time and energy on formatting – White spaces and paragraph breaks emphasize the structure and flow of your thoughts! Nobody wants to read a solid blurb of text and re-engineer the logical structure.
  • Re-read your message twice – Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes. If you have no context at all, does what you wrote still makes sense?


Did you like this post? Want to read more?

Check out our book for more thoughts and a week-by-week guide to make strategic changes to improve your health, career, and life purpose:

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First
A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: PaperbackKindle

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Working backwards

A recent presentation on Journey mapping reminded me of a different approach for designing solutions that I learned at Amazon:

Working backwards (from the customer experience).

Amazon uses this process for every single project. If there has ever been a secret sauce to what Amazon does, it’s the working backwards process.

The idea is to not start from the current situation and constraints, but rather to forget all that for a while and start from the end state. What SHOULD the perfect customer experience be? What is the perfect end state? What would we do if we were in an unconstrained situation?

Changing your mindset to that view before kicking off a project or designing a solution will allow you to think outside the box. You will think about what the right approach is, not what the easiest next step will be. You will think about what’s right for the customer, not about how hard it is to make necessary changes.

After you have clarity on the end state, you start working backwards. In order to get to that end state, what interim state do you need to reach before? What’s the stage before that? – Rinse and repeat until you reach all the way back to your current status quo.

The HUGE benefit is that you start from where you want to be in the future as opposed to what the next incremental state is from where you are now. You will find that you will end up in vastly different places with these two approaches.

Don’t be frustrated though. In my time with Amazon, I found that working backwards is the hardest mental model to teach. Every single new employee struggled and it took them many attempts until they actually worked backwards from an ideal end state. This could take months of intellectual struggle. We were all raised to think incrementally, and those thought patterns are burned into our brains.

Stop thinking incrementally – think backwards!

So, how does Amazon do the working backwards process?

They start with a press release. The very first thing one does when pitching or starting a project is to write what the press release at launch should look like. How is this new solution different, what is the new customer experience, what are the new benefits?

This is one page – never more. If it generates enough excitement, the work begins, digging into constraints, problems to overcome, and investments that will be required. The important part is that you have to drop all your knowledge of constraints or challenges when writing the one-page press release.

That’s how Prime, one-day shipping, Alexa, and everything else you’ve ever seen from Amazon were born.


Did you like this post? Want to read more?

Check out our book for more thoughts and a week-by-week guide to make strategic changes to improve your health, career, and life purpose:

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First
A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: PaperbackKindle

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.