Leading with Values

March 05, 2015

In a recent Gallup finding, only 31.5% of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs – a startling stat to ponder, with implications beyond the obvious lost productivity and profitability.

Consider the cautionary tale... In an attempt to manage poor performance, a business gets overburdened with rules and systems. What was meant to manage low performers, alienates great employees who don't need heavy-handed tactics for motivation. Those disengaged employees, more than two-thirds of the workforce, begin to rub high-level performers the wrong way. Eventually the best people move on, seeking greener grass.

Highlighting the behaviors you want can create a more empowering and positive employee experience.

Values session with Pondurance Sticky notes from a Factory Day focused on core values with Indianapolis-based information security firm Pondurance.

What exactly are core values? Core values describe how you go about your work, how you interact with one another, and how your organization behaves. If you can point to past stories and current employees who exemplify the value, then you're on to something.

Even if you desperately wish you were more collaborative or creative or [fill in the blank], if it isn't there already, it isn't core. It might be more of what Patrick Lencioni calls an aspirational value, a behavior you hope your team will display one day. Another type of value Lencioni references in his book "The Advantage" is the permission to play value. This type of value might be something basic and essential for all organizations in your industry that wouldn't be unique to your organization, like trust might be for banks.

There are a lot of different ways to choose core values. When SmallBox has helped organizations choose or refine values, we opt for storytelling methods, in which many employees share important stories from their tenure, focusing on milestones, things that are unique or learning moments. In the past, we've organized a "Factory Day" where we facilitate the conversation, but the values must come from you. We don't recommend having a consultant or one lone executive sit in a board room and write core values for an organization. An external or solo endeavor can lead to a value set that over-represents the thoughts of one person, or in extreme cases, gets rejected by the team it is meant to inspire.

Once you have established your values, it's good to keep them top of mind. Core values won’t do much good if they only live on a piece of paper or simply hang on a plaque in the office. If they fall out of memory, they may fall out of practice too.

Pondurance values session
Pondurance employees helped choose core values during their Factory Day session.

How to bring core values to life with your team:

  • Set up a review rhythm – Making values part of regular conversation is a great way to keep the language top of mind. Our CEO revisits our values, along with purpose, mission and other key strategic language at least quarterly through a "State of the Company" address or in person at our weekly team lunch meeting. When your values are new, that rhythm might be monthly, or even weekly, as you try this new language on for size. We reserve more time once per year to really challenge our values, and ask questions like, Does this all still resonate with your team? Has the meaning of the words, or how others interpret them changed over time? We've found our winter Factory Week is a good space for these types of reflections and conversations.
  • Reviews and kudos – One of the best ways to encourage your team to exhibit a behavior? Highlight good stories as you see them! You can recognize team members that champion core values through more formal performance reviews, as well as casual interactions. For example, our weekly team lunch always kicks-off with Big Ups, where any team member can give kudos to someone who did something awesome. We often reference core values in these stories.
  • Build the tribe – When hiring, vet candidates against your values. One of our values is curiosity. I don't necessarily ask candidates How have you been curious? as much as asking related questions, such as, Do you have any side-projects you're working on?  On the flip side, values can be helpful in the times you need to let someone go as well. A values misalignment might explain why someone hasn't been a good fit.
  • Design experiences or events around them – When deciding to build new initiatives, events, or processes, test them against values. Will it honor your values? How will your team be able to channel the behavior through this new program? I mentioned curiosity is a value for SmallBox. Two events have spun out from this value. We started offering a learning opportunity for our clients, and then we added internal knowledge share lunches. This allows our team to the space to channel curiosity, and share our value with others too.

Core values aren’t a silver bullet, but they can be a key tool for inspiring and engaging your team. (And it’s much more fun than a bunch of rule-mongering!)

Interested in a Values Factory Day? Let us know!

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