The Value of Values

The U. S. Marine Corps is one of the world’s elite organizations. Who are they and what is their identity? Their values. They create their identity through their core values – Honor, courage, and commitment. These three core values define a Marine. The result? “The values of the Marine Corps guide our actions and intensify our fight so that every battle we face—we’re able to face down.

Why is it that thirty years after wearing the uniform, Marine veterans stand with pride when the Marine Corps Hymn is played? Being a Marine is still their identity. Once a Marine, always a Marine. Semper fidelis = always faithful.

What can private organizations learn from the Marines? Let’s see:

I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of different organizations. I think each of them had some sense of their core values. Could anyone in the organization recite them? What is typical is the response I received from the assistant director of communications department who wrote the values as well as their mission statement. “just a minute … ya ah… they will come to me in a minute… ah”. I interviewed dozens of senior leaders, in this organization and not one could articulate their mission, vision, or core values. How unfortunate. They could have given their workforce great pride if anyone would have bothered to talk about them, let alone integrated them with their work.

In contrast, the U.S. Marine Corps regularly takes young men and women, trains them to identify with and perform an inherently dangerous job according to these values – honor, courage, and commitment. Furthermore, they begin their leadership training on the first day of boot camp, and this training is defined by fourteen behaviors/traits. It is all integrated into a designed system of leadership.

Next Jump is also one of the world’s elite organization. They are a technology firm, yet their technology does not define them. Their values, or more specifically, their mission, defines them – Changing Workplace Culture. They sell technology, but they identify themselves as an organization that is changing the experience of the workplace.

So, what are the lessons:

  1. Create an organizational identity and workforce engagement around transcendent values.
  2. Train, coach, and mentor every new hire, and every recruit relentlessly in the execution of these values.
  3. Self-doubt and lack of self-confidence is a universal human ailment. High performing organizations build the confidence of their workforce through their core values. Next time you are in a public gathering and the Marine Corp Hymn is played look around. Aging veterans will stand with pride with tears streaming down their faces. They remain – Semper fidelis (always faithful).

Of course, this means that values must be more than a poster that goes up in the break room. Values must be built into the systems and processes of their daily operations. Starting with the system of leadership.

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