While there has been much talk about core values in business there is also some concern related to publically proclaiming a set of values, as we risk being called to task for not adhering to them. This concern is completely understandable in a culture that places a high value on pinning things down into definitions and categorizations.

Definitions: The culture of definitions leads us to interpret core values as being something we already are.

Categorization: The culture of categorizations leads us to see core values in a box—that they are a known thing, an aspect of our brand, an attribute of our leadership.

What if Core Values are Fluid?

What if core values are not definable or categorical, but rather fluid and dynamic? If so then we are causing ourselves a great deal of unnecessary anxiety by attempting to place core values in a box that says, “Here’s a pretty package that shows how wonderful we are.” That’s scary because we may not be those things all of the time.

But what if the process of defining and declaring core values in an organization is not cut and dry? What if we can acknowledge that we are not going to get it right 100% of the time—that we know we’re not perfect—but that we will continually strive to do better?

Stating Core Values as Aspirations

If we know we’re not going to get it right all the time and yet aspire to a higher ideal, then we state core values as aspirations and commit ourselves to a process of moving in the direction of greater adherence to those values.

If the values held in common are fluid, then we write them in terms of actions. We say for example, “we strive for,” “we endeavor to embody,” “we approach our work with,” “we cultivate,” “we embrace,” “we aim for,” and so on. This is a more humble way of stating core values. It’s as though we’re saying, “We may not always get it right, but these values are important to us and we want to do all we can to embody them.”

In this way we are stating core values as aspirations and we are proclaiming our commitment to walking the road of core values. A road can have a beginning and an end, but when we “walk the road” we are embracing the journey, not declaring a destination—we’re not saying we’ve arrived, but we’re on the way.

Tip of the Week

Choose one personal core value that you wish to embody more fully. Not necessarily one that you feel you are already good at, but one you’d like to improve. Then endeavor to embody this value just a little bit more for one week. You don’t have to run a marathon, just inch yourself to a deeper embodiment. Then after one week look back and notice the feeling you have related to this value. The feeling you have might just spur you on to keep going and deepening your values a little more each week.