Knowing and understanding your values, both personal and organizational, is incredibly important. Values drive culture, they are the motivator behind all of the choices we make. In their absence we fight for our values to be met, in their presence we celebrate and reinforce them. If culture is defined as a consensus of what is honored and what is shamed in an organization, we will honor the behaviors that align with our values, and shame the ones that do not.

Start with a list of values printed on index cards. One value on each card. Keep in mind that this exercise is very subjective. The words on the cards might mean something different to different people, based upon how you view and define the word. If this is an organizational exercise, the decided upon values must have a common and mutually understood definition. If this is a personal exercise of discovery, you must have internal clarity of what the word means to you. Keep in mind, this is not a complete list, there are hundreds if not thousands of possible values, this is simply a starting place.

Round One

Go through the deck and make three piles.

This may be difficult because the entire stack is a list of good things. Putting your hands on the cards and having to make a difficult choice helps bring some clarity about what truly matters to you.

Round Two

After going through the deck once, push aside the “no” pile and shuffle together the “yes” and the “maybe”. For round two, do the exact same thing with the newly mixed deck. But before you do, consider this:

Everyone claims they value truth, honesty, or integrity. We hate it when people lie to us. But that doesn’t mean we value truth. Value is about agency in our own lives more than what we enjoy receiving from others. What happens when we have a choice between truth and something else? Harmony, for example. Will you let some truth slide by to keep the peace? If so, you might value harmony more than truth. What are you willing to bend the truth for? The answer may point to a value you hold more deeply than truth.

In round two ask yourself: Do you really value this? If someone were looking at your life or hearing your inner monologue, would they see evidence that this is important to you?

Round Three

After round two, discard the “no” and “maybe” piles, for this round go through the remaining cards making only two piles, “yes” and “no”. Keep in mind, this does not mean you don’t value these other things, there is a hierarchy to our values, and we want to discover your core motivators.



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Before you go into round three, consider the following: We have a friend who is a dietician. Whenever a potential client comes in to meet with her for the first time, she has a conversation that looks something like this:

Q1: “Why are you here to see me?”
“I want to lose weight.”

Q2: “Why do you want to lose weight?”
“I want to look better?”

Q3: “Why”
“Well, I want to attract a spouse?”

Q4: “Why”
“I don’t want to be alone.”

Q5: “Why”
“I want to share my life with someone.”

Q6: “Why”
“I want to feel loved and accepted.”

It usually takes at least five whys to get to the heart of the issue. The deep value, and true motivator, comes out after pushing through the walls we create for safety and self-preservation. The five whys help us dig through the layers and get to the core of the vision we have for our lives. In that way, vision is something we discover more than something we make up.

The real reason this person wants to lose weight is they want to be loved and accepted. Being in shape and looking good don’t really matter. These are things people have internalized as conditions in order to achieve acceptance. They are a means to an end. The end is acceptance. But it is much easier and safer to claim superficial motivations.

For round three of the exercise, consider why? Why do you have this value in the pile? Is it because your parents enforced it? Is it a relatively superficial mask for what truly matters to you? Does it nest under a deeper value? Or does it resonate with some core aspect of who you are? Ask yourself, “Is this a hill I am willing to die on?” If the answer is yes, you are getting somewhere.

After round three, get rid of both the “no” and “maybe” piles. Then try to whittle down the remaining pile to five values. Look at the cards and figure out if one value might actually be the why of another. For example, someone may have two cards, “Freedom” and “Creativity”. Which of those is the deeper value? Do you value the creative process because it is an expression of freedom or do you value freedom because it removes the obstacle of oppression from the creative process? Many of our values nest under others.