Changing the Values of a Values-led Organisation - Cogent

Changing the Values of a Values-led Organisation

Adam Murray

Adam Murray

Organisation as artwork; disruption as subtle.

If you were able to see the heart of Cogent, if you were able to get to its core and see something physical there, the thing you would be looking at would be some manifestation of our values. Our values are what define us as an organisation. They shape the decisions we make every day, both large and small. They inform who we hire, the clients we work with, our strategy and our operations. Without our values, Cogent would not last.

You can imagine then, that when it comes to something so crucial to the fabric of our business, we tread carefully when thinking about changing them. If would be tempting to stay away from making any modifications at all. Too hard, too many implications, too many unknowns. The business is working just fine as it is – let’s leave that stuff alone.

Transparency: We strive to be transparent in everything we do at Cogent because we believe that transparency builds trust, and trust builds Cogent.

But as James Carse says in his book Finite and Infinite Games, only that which can change can continue. We want to continue as an entity. We want to continue to be relevant to our people, our clients, and the unfolding context we find ourselves in. In order to enable that, we need to be able to change even that which is most foundational. 

We had a hunch that our values could be improved sometime around the middle of 2018. We could see that, although some of our values were referred to frequently when asked, nobody seemed to be able to recall all six, and a few of them were consistently forgotten by all but those with the best memories. Some of our values were alive, and some were petering along.

Wellbeing: We prioritise the wellbeing of our people and our clients because, at the end of the day, Cogent is its people. We make decisions and act in a way that considers the whole-of-person, all of the time.

Around that time we had our annual Cogent Day, a time where all of Cogent’s employees gather in one place. It was a beautiful time of story-telling and sharing each person’s experience of what our values meant to them. What also emerged from this time together was a sense that we were ready to look at our values again. That we wanted them to be an even more important part of our experience at Cogent.

It was at this stage we designed a more formal process for how we would go about refining our values. It would take time and would involve investment from the business. There would be moments of uncertainty and ambiguity, but we thought that the end product would be worth it.

Evolution: If there’s one thing we can all bank on in life, it’s change. Evolution allows us to be ready for it, respond positively to it, or provoke it if stagnation sets in.

The initial driver for this was to reduce our values from six to four. In order to decide which values to remove, we wanted to gather input from anyone at Cogent who wanted to contribute. At the time of doing this work, Cogent had about 50 employees. Each person was invited to share their thoughts through either a one-on-one interview or via a facilitated group session. Everyone who wanted to contribute, which ended up being about half of Cogent’s people, decided to have one-on-one chat.

As an input into these discussions, each person read through a draft proposal of the refined values. This was compiled based on what we had already learned from Cogent day and other, less formal, discussions. The primary purpose of this was to gauge whether we were heading in the right direction and to create a starting point for discussion. While nothing was even close to being locked in at this stage, the document did suggest dropping two of our six values, along with some rationale and commentary.

Inclusion: We believe that different perspectives and different ways of solving problems are critical to making our best work, work that matters. We ensure that as diversity at Cogent grows, the sense of belonging that individuals feel is sustained and improved. We call this Inclusion.

The conversations that followed were rich and diverse. There was a sense of pride in Cogent, that Cogent took their values so seriously that they would invest in talking with so many people, that Cogent was prepared to let go of something so central in order for something even better to emerge, and that it was prepared to face the uncertainty and ambiguity that such a process could bring.

After the conversion process was complete, the rich qualitative data generated was absorbed and percolated over. The notes from each interview were read and re-read. Patterns, links and differences were noted. Over a period of weeks, a modified set of values started to emerge.

Meaning: We strive towards doing meaningful work because we want the people that work with Cogent to answer “What did you do at work today?” with pride and energy.

Even at this stage, it was not easy to grasp or articulate what all of the values were. It was clear that some of the existing values would remain and it was also clear that others only required some slight tweaking. The difficulty came when we began to see that some values needed to be dropped, and that there were others emerging in their place.

Through a combination of deep discussion and quiet reflection, we wrested with words; we um-ed and ah-ed about the importance of sticking to our initial criteria of four values. We came to a conclusion: for the next phase of Cogent’s existence there would be five values: Transparency, Wellbeing, Inclusion, Meaning, and Evolution.

You can find you more about them here: http://cogent.co/values/

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