It’s easy to spout motherhood statements about caring for people, teamwork, trust, partnering, we’re all in this together, and the like. Tough times expose a leadership team’s true values. When the pandemic panic set in last year, some executive teams showed their true beliefs that employees are human capital or assets with skin to be shed when the going got tough.
As leaders now rebuild or focus on growth opportunities, attracting, engaging, and retaining top people — a magnet organization — will make or break their plans. Central to the magnetic strength of an organization’s culture are its values.
Most organizations today have some sort of values statement. One test of whether those values are just words somewhere on a website or vibrantly alive is to ask anyone what the values are and how they’re used. If they can’t do it without looking them up, they’re likely a lengthy list of values or don’t reflect what behaviors are truly expected and rewarded.
Countless studies show that organizations with “high standards of ethical behavior,” “shared values,” or are “socially conscious” have higher than average performance. Values-based leadership has huge pay-offs.
If your leadership team hasn’t developed an explicit set of core values or they need to be revitalized, you want:
- Three to five words or short phrases you can use as “verbal pegs” to cluster or summarize your desired culture.
- Words or short phrases that are easy to understand and meaningful to your team and organization.
- Definitions of the core behaviors to live your core values. Sometimes adding examples of behaviors that violate your values can be helpful.
Your values should represent a blend of those principles from your past that you want to preserve and the beliefs that your organization needs to live by to strengthen your culture. Drawing from the past respects and builds on your organization’s heritage, successes, and strengths. It helps to turn resistance to change into confidence and energy for facing the future. Future values are the flipside of your team or organization’s vision.
From Rhetoric to Reality
Values live most clearly in key people’s decisions:
- Make “values fit” a key criterion in hiring. You can improve a person’s skills and experience with training and development. It’s very hard to train for attitude and almost impossible to change a person’s core values.
- Replace rules and policies with values and trust. Effective leaders treat team members as responsible adults who want to do the right thing for the team or organization. They know that most people will exercise good judgment with good support, training, and leadership examples. The exceptions can be dealt with as needed.
- Promote only those people who are role models for the organization’s values. Promotions are the clearest indication of whether values are rhetoric or reality. Too often, executive teams declare values of teamwork, safety, customer service, or trust, but then promote techno-managers, who manage by e-mail, rarely sees customers or team members, prioritize production over safety, and “snoopervise.”– simply because he or she gets the job done. This clearly shows what’s expected and rewarded — despite the values statement.
Many executive teams have “done their values thing” and produced aspiration statements. Some are quite inspiring. But many executives are frustrated that managers, supervisors, and employees aren’t getting the message.
Most people do get the executive team’s message. They see it loud and clear.
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