Goals vs. Values
Last week, I wrote about the importance of establishing your own professional goals—and now, with those in place, it’s time to address something just as important: your core values as an e-Learning Designer.
While the goals that you’ve written will help you decide what you want to accomplish as an e-Learning Designer, your core values will help you determine how you do that. Putting your core values in writing is your chance to explicitly define how you want to work—both for yourself and others.
What Core Values Are, and Aren’t
Your core values are a brief list of statements that describe the approach you want to take to your work, and the qualities you will strive for as a professional. Think of your core values as your own personalized professional compass, constantly pointing you towards the work and processes that make you feel the most fulfilled.
As a freelancer, core values are especially important, as they can help you decide the work and clients you want to pursue, and which you should decline.
For example, here is one of my core values:
- Simplicity. My approach to business is to make things simple and informative for my clients. I will strive to remove clutter from my products and processes, until only the essential and useful remains.
After quite a bit of consideration, I decided that simplicity was one of my core values, because I can apply it to both the way I work with my clients, as well as the content that I create for them. For example, when starting a business relationship with a new client, I always write a Statement of Work (the document that specifies what I’m proposing to do for them). As I’m writing each Statement of Work, I test it against my core value of simplicity: Is the document straightforward, and easy to understand? Have I included any unnecessary information that I can weed out? Similarly, when I’m building e-Learning content for them, this core value comes in handy as a litmus test: Have I presented what the learner needs to know as simply as possible? Is there any content that isn’t essential?
What’s important here is that my core values aren’t just a mantra; they serve a functional purpose that allows me to ensure I’m living up to the professional standards I’ve set for myself. This is incredibly important: Your own core values need to be functional ideas that you can use in everyday decision-making. If you’re able to put your values to work in this way—use them as a check-in point for yourself—you know you’ve written strong core values. If you find yourself liking an idea, but can’t come up with a practical example of how you’d use it, that may be a sign that you need to further refine the idea into a working core value.
It’s also important to note here that core values are different than a mission statement or a slogan. Many businesses will publish what they call “values,” but in reality they’re using phrases that sound good for marketing purposes. Consider some of the traditional statements like “quality is job one,” or “the customer is always right.” Both of these ideas sound great, but it would be a challenge to apply them in practice on a regular basis—they represent an intention, which is good, but not a practical idea to live up to.
How to Define Your Own Core Values
So, how do you come up with your own core values? Well, it isn’t easy, but it is worthwhile, and will take time. As you’re coming up with your own, make sure you allot yourself plenty of time to self-reflect and consider what’s important to you and your career. Your core values need to reflect your own insights into who you are, and what really matters to you.
When I was writing my own core values, I set aside an hour each day for a week. (You may find you need more or less time; this is just the time frame that worked out for me.) During that time, I thought about events from my professional past, and what made me feel good or bad about those events. I started jotting down notes of what worked for me and what didn’t work for me. Then I started to look for themes in what I’d come up with—patterns that showed commonality between all of the things that did and didn’t work for me. (One of the patterns that emerged for me was that the events I didn’t want to repeat were all cluttered and overly complicated—which lead me to consider adding “simplicity” as one of my core values.)
Once I had identified a handful of themes, both positive and negative, I took some time to consider their relative priority. This was hard work, because I found myself having to really hone in on my themes and decide which ones would move me in the direction that I wanted as a person and as a professional. Simplicity was high on the list, and from there, I was able to write drafts of that core value. Again, I forced myself to take time to do this, to give myself the benefit of thoughtful consideration. As I thought about my passion for simplicity, I considered how it could be applied to both my client relationships and the work I produce, and made sure that the final draft of that core value addressed both.
When I was finished, I had six core values, and I printed them out and put them on my office wall to remind myself to consistently use them. You may have more than six, or less—typically, I find that most people benefit from between 5 and 8 core values (if you have more than this, you may find it a challenge to consistently use them). Once your core values are in place, make sure that they’re somewhere you can see them and reference them easily. I keep mine posted in my office, and reviewing them each work day morning helps motivate me to get started.
To help you with the development of your own core values, I’m attaching a worksheet to this blog post, which includes questions for you to ponder as you go through the process. I also encourage you to spend some time searching the web for other people’s core values for inspiration—there are some good ones out there! But be careful: Copying someone else’s values may not help you achieve your own success. Developing your core values is a personal journey, and while it’s good to be inspired by the goals others have written, it’s important to be certain that your own values are personally meaningful to you based on your own introspection. Also, remember also that there are a lot of generic, impractical core value ideas out there, so scrutinize each one by thinking about how you would apply it to the work you produce and the client relationships you maintain.
What Happens if You Don’t Write Core Values?
Core values take time to refine and articulate, and I recognize how easy it is to procrastinate or find other tasks that take priority. That said, the sooner you define your own core values and write them down, the sooner you’ll reach your own professional nirvana by making sure that you’re living up to your own ideals.
If you skip writing core values, you run a variety of risks. Remember the old saying: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything!” Before I had articulated my own core values as an e-Learning Designer, I ran into a variety of difficult situations: my decisions were inconsistent, my work processes suffered because of concessions I was making, and worst of all, I was letting others around me determine what I stood for. Think back to the compass metaphor: it’s easy to waste time wandering, and without core values, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever reach my ideal professional state.
Just like your professional goals from last week, once you’ve used the attached worksheet to develop your own core values, make sure that you write them down and put them somewhere where they are always available. If you want to go the extra mile towards holding yourself accountable, share your core values with your peers, or on social media. The more your colleagues and clients understand your core values, the more likely they are to help keep you on track!