Core Values – The Cowboy Way 

The following blog post is written by Mark Ellis of Culture Transform and was originally posted here.

My family were all sitting down watching a Charley Boorman ‘travel the world’ documentary last week, when a very young aspiring bull rider was asked about what it was like to be a cowboy. The answer he gave was….

“Stand up for yourself and others, respect your God, your country, your elders and don’t tell lies to other people”

I looked for some other definitions, and found these two:

“Never cross over private fences, always speak the truth, respect your elders and respond with a yes Sir or no Ma’am”
 “If it’s not true, don’t say it. If it’s not yours, don’t take it. If it’s not right, don’t do it” –James Drury

Seen in another way these are value statements – they define the personal beliefs of a great many people (and not just those who wear Stetsons and ride bulls).

When you’re trying to define your corporate core values, you need to understand that your employee population has some deeply held personal beliefs.

If you want to get the best from them you should make sure that your mission statement, your values, and your methods of reinforcement align with both your business goals and the strengths of your people.

I’ve seen some truly incredible examples of corporate bullshit – “Inspire through ingenuity” being my own personal favourite, so to counter that here’s my take on some example core values for “Cowboy Inc.”

1. Speak the truth
2. Do the right thing
3. Respect others

Too simple? Not really – because the three statements above (made by listening to the voices of our fictional employees) are all contained in the original phrases at the top of this page.

As people are all different, they will interpret these values based on their own internal values. These three hypothetical values will allow me to retain and attract believers in the cowboy way.

But that’s not good enough – because some people in the company may not understand, and values like that are hard to add to performance management systems. So I need some expected behaviours, to clarify what I expect. This is where things get harder…….I would suggest the following….

1. Speak the truth

  • Be honest when you communicate, agree and disagree in constructive, respectful ways.
  • Don’t give different versions of events to different people at different levels in the company.

2. Do the right thing

  • If you feel uncomfortable doing something that is asked of you, then ask for reasons before you decide whether to do it or not.
  • Make sure you treat people the way you want to be treated.

3. Respect others

  • Be polite, address others as Sir or Ma’am.
  • People in other departments are responsible for their areas – if you think they can do better go and talk to them, not others.

If you’re reading through these and think they are over simplified and wouldn’t work, then that’s absolutely fine. You probably want to look elsewhere for employment because you will not fit in, you won’t enjoy working at Cowboy Inc. and you’ll probably leave shortly after I’ve invested time and money training you.

But these are definitions of what to expect if you come and work here. If you think that the same process of listening to your employees and building your value system around them would not work with your own company, then you are dead wrong.

Your company became successful based on the people that work there. Those people are your greatest strength, and have beliefs you need align with and reinforce. If your company need to change direction, then make sure you identify the best people to get you there, and align around them.

Just please don’t think you can do this by locking yourself away in a room with a whiteboard and creating generic gobbledegook.


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