I once worked for an organization that required all employees to smile at every (single) visitor within 5 seconds of passing them. That’s right. Antennae out – smile on – 24/7. While the idea was credible – let’s make everyone feel welcome – the initiative failed miserably because it was impossible to apply consistently. As a result, forced friendliness and selective smiling led one to wonder who liked you and who didn’t. What began as a welcome became a weapon.
The Golden Rule is another example of a value gone south. While seemingly straightforward, it is not helpful when working with multiple relationships at the granular level.
A frequent example in my work is to ask a team how they’d like to be critiqued or criticized. Some will say: We hate to be criticized!!! Don’t do it and please be gentle in your feedback to us. However, the other half will chime in: Bring it on, be direct and don’t waste our time with polite niceties. We stop listening to you. The point is that human beings are complex and when we make assumptions – well, you know where that takes us.
Getting to True North: Be Authentic and Specific
I worked with an organization that identified Respect as a core value. On the surface, this value seems as broad as the Golden Rule. However, after small group break-outs, the leadership team collectively defined respect by the following behaviors:
- Don’t fake it – keep a beginner’s mind
- Apologize and ask for a do-over
- Follow through on your word
- Don’t take things personally
Get the Facts First
As you might imagine, this list represents trigger points and behaviors unique to the organization and its mission. And you might be surprised by their definition of Respect: Get the facts first? Don’t take things personally? Keep a beginner’s mind? Apologize and ask for a do-over? But that’s the whole point. Be aggressively authentic and specific.
Get to Your Core!
It’s important to understand what core values are and are not. They are not aspirational values – what you really want your culture to be but it isn’t – like always honest and upfront in communication or offering a great work-life balance. They are not permission-to-play values – the minimum standards essential to the job – like punctuality or sound decision making. They also are not accidental values – ones that will change in time and become irrelevant – like technical proficiency.
Core values are deeply ingrained principles that guide all actions and are never compromised. Therefore, while a mission statement may undergo change, core values will endure and transcend turbulent economic stress and change.
A Powerful Return on Investment
Contrary to popular opinion, Value Statements are not a waste of time. When created properly they are one of the most powerful ROI tools available to you. Imagine a tool that would consistently accomplish the following:
- A decision making guide for business partners, investors and stakeholders disagreements
- A magnet to attract and repel employees
- Criteria for cultural competencies in the performance evaluation
- A template for behavioral questions in the hiring process
- A template for managers and supervisors to use in corrective feedback
- A guide for courageous conversations with coworkers or supervisors
- Behavioral language to motivate employees
- A defined system for recognition and rewards
In summary, your values are your culture and your culture is your brand. So make your Values Statement stick and work as your directional guide to True North.