In a recent survey of over 200 CEOs, Fortune magazine asked, “What is the single-most important thing the crisis has taught you?” One of the top answers was “Leadership and Values matter always, but especially in a crisis.” It seems that the importance of both personal and organizational values is becoming much more widely recognized – and we see that as an important step on path to creating a wiser world. But identifying your Values is only the first step, to make them really matter, we must adopt a consistent practice of using them as a tool.
You may have had the unfortunate experience of being part of an organization that used their Values as a weapon – I know I have. They were posted on the wall and published in company literature, but it seemed that they were only really applied when they could be used to point out mistakes. Case in point, I recall that “Having Fun” was listed as one of their Values. Yet the only time I remember hearing those words from the company’s leaders was when the team I was leading was reprimanded for “not looking like we were having fun” after several consecutive 80-hour work weeks. We were proud of the work we had accomplished on a very challenging project, but we were tired. And weaponizing this somewhat inauthentic organizational Value did nothing but demotivate us and encourage us to freshen up our resumes in an effort to find a place where our hard work would be valued.
I was fortunate to find that place, and I have been inspired by experiencing what it looks like when an organization’s Values are put into action and truly used as a tool. Now I enjoy helping organizations of all kinds clarify their culture by identifying authentic and aspirational Values, and then sustain their culture by aligning their actions and embedding those Values into their processes.
Here are a few examples of how you can use your organizational Values as a tool:
- Make sure you describe what your Values look like in action. It’s not enough to state Teamwork as a value, for example. You also need to identify the specific behaviors that are important for your organization in demonstrating teamwork. We recommend a structure that includes a clear outcome statement for each Value. For teamwork, it could be working together to accomplish a shared goal. Then we recommend identifying 3-4 clear, actionable and observable behaviors, something like celebrate team successes, for example. Then put those Values, outcomes, and behaviors on something that people can carry with them.
- Catch people in the act of doing something right. Ken Blanchard first coined this phrase – and for Values Based Organizations, that means catching people acting in alignment with your stated values. And then recognizing them for it. Use the language of your Values so that people are crystal clear.
- Explicitly use your Values when making business decisions. Trying to decide whether that new acquisition, product line, or partner is the right way to go? Get out your Values card and walk through how they apply to the scenario in question. If Teamwork is one of your Values, how does the potential partner work with you as a team? Once you’ve made the decision, communicate how it aligns to your Values.
- Embed the Values in your processes. A critical step is embedding them in your performance review and performance management processes. But they belong in your other processes, too – from safety protocols to business planning and budgeting, make the alignment clear.
And yes, you should also use the Values to give direction or to re-direct when someone is off course. But keep in mind that feedback is a tool to help people improve. Imagine if the conversation that was had at the end of my challenging project sounded more like, “You know, we really appreciate the hard work that’s been done over these last few weeks, but your team looks pretty beat. It’s important to us that we reward hard work and Having Fun is an important Value – what are your plans for balancing out the hard work with some fun?”
How have you used your organizational Values as a tool?