Living Your Values

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It seems that many employees are increasingly disgruntled by their employer’s failure to “walk the talk”. When an organization proclaims it believes in something, but then behaves in a way that is contrary to those beliefs, the results are dire. Just today, I heard an example of a company communicating to its employees that it had instituted a process for global sales to promote fairness and transparency; however, when the process was not followed and worse yet, employees were hurt financially, the company turned its back on its values by not enforcing the policy against the offending employees. The reaction to this lapse, predictably, was that the negatively impacted employees did not want to follow the process the next time (and perhaps even to sabotage it!). Morale plummeted, trust in the process was lost, and no incentive remained to pursue similar sales in the future. In one fell swoop, the organization created a credibility gap.

Living your core values is more than putting a poster on the office wall, or holding a session to “embed” the values in the organization. Indeed, even if you are successful in aligning your employees around the values of your organization, it only takes one misstep (like the one above) to unwind all the good work that the organization has done to create that alignment. Put simply, the organization is just one behavior away from destroying a positive reputation that may have taken years to build. So, how can an organization ensure that it is walking the talk consistently?

First, and foremost—ensure that all members of your leadership team demonstrate your organization’s core values in everything they do. If they do not, you might as well not read any further. Leaders are like amplifiers: if they are aligned they will produce resonance, but if they are not aligned, the organization will hear static and will block out what is being communicated. Second, empower your employees to raise concerns about behaviors that are inconsistent with your values, without fear of backlash. You can designate someone in your organization or on its leadership team to champion these values. Encourage your employees to share their views and call out inconsistent behaviors, even if these behaviors originate with your leadership. Third, make sure that you follow up and follow through on these legitimate concerns. This will create credibility with your employees and promote an ethic of accountability. For example, if you value “respect for all people”, then allowing harassment or demeaning conduct in any form would not be tolerated. Finally, only hire and retain employees who demonstrate the core values of your organization. People are who they are—either they share your values or they do not. So, hire and keep people who reflect, rather than detract, from who you are. As Patrick Lencioni teaches, your values should be the immutable parameters of your hiring decisions.

On a personal note, I lost my father about a week or so ago. I was humbled and overwhelmed by the support we received by the many, many people who loved him. I heard wonderful stories about how my dad helped people when they were down, how he made them laugh, how he taught them to love, how he made them feel special. These were my dad’s values: showing love, being a friend, helping others, and keeping his family safe and secure. He lived them every day. I saw these even more clearly after he died and realized that your values are what define you. It reflects who you are and who you are not. Organizations, like people, need to live their values each and every day. These values define who they and what their legacy will be. So, go be inspired to create your legacy. It is the foundation upon which your organization rests.

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