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As we’ve mentioned in this space before regarding the leaders need to define the playing field, a few years ago I watched my kids play a pick up soccer game with their neighborhood friends. No one bothered to define the field boundaries; they just started playing. After a minute or two, someone kicked the ball up the street: GOAL! The team celebrated. The other team, though, said it wasn’t a goal. They argued for a while and started again. The ball went into the bushes. Out of bounds, one side said. No it’s not, said the other.

The kids wound up spending more time arguing than playing, and everyone soon just gave up and quit the game. Even in a pick-up, neighborhood soccer game, the players need to know the rules of the game.

In this post and in Part 2 later this week, we’ll talk more about how organizations define the rules of the game.

For organizations, the “rules” are their values, guiding principles and beliefs. When the organization defines them clearly, the leader’s roles are clear: ensure the values get applied in all decision-making situations, and teach them to new employees, peers and everyone who does business with the company.

Many organizations, though, have not established a clear, concise set of values. That can produce fatal results, no matter how talented the employees might be.

I worked with a manager as part of an engagement with a large utility. Chris inherited a tough situation after being promoted into a division manager position. Quality and productivity had fallen within the division. Financial performance was getting worse. Customers were upset, and the morale of the work group was taking a significant hit.