Creating an Environment Where Values Thrive

As we know, the world of business can change rapidly. And as we’re being drawn into the demands of the everyday, it can be easy to lose sight of the organization’s values.

But it’s when we become overwhelmed and stressed and challenged that we need to lean into those chosen values the most.

Otherwise, we risk running an organization that is based on empty promises.

We need to continue to prioritize the values to not only foster a positive workplace culture but also drive long-term success. To truly make values thrive, we must actively create an environment where they are not just words but rather they are integral to every aspect of the business.

So what can leaders do to help create an environment where values thrive?

Review your core values

We need to start at the beginning. We need to start with reviewing the core values because before values can thrive, they need to be well-defined and still relevant. Start by revisiting those core values. Are they still relevant? Are they still aligned with your organization's mission? As businesses change, and the environment changes, the clients change, the team members change, so will the culture and daily experience of the organization. And so we need to make sure that our values are still those that we want to embrace and that are truly a reflection of what's happening. Take the time to think about whether your current values still accurately represent the company.

Once you've looked at that, ask yourself whether they're clear. It's great. “Oh, yeah, yeah, we're still doing that. We still want to do that.” Great. But are they clear? Can anyone understand them or do they require a lot of explanation? Because if you need to start explaining what they mean to everyone, they're not clear. If you need to start giving constant examples, they're not clear. It's one thing to say, here's the value and here's what it looks like in action. But if you actually need to fully explain this is what it means and there are some questions, then they're not clear. So work on clarifying those.

And as you're doing this exercise of clarification and reviewing them, and making sure that they're still aligned, involve the team. Maybe they feel that something could be clearer. Maybe it's clear in your mind, it's clear in your leadership team's mind, but maybe other team members who aren't involved in the strategy as much are not so clear on what they mean. It's important that everybody understands those. Involve team members in reviewing them and determining whether they're still aligned.

Another thing that the team can also help with is if values have evolved because maybe at the beginning, five years ago when they were created, one value had a certain meaning, but now the organization is in a different place, maybe its clients are different, and that value doesn't have the same meaning. We need to evolve that value. And team members, who are constantly delivering the products or the services, are likely the first ones to spot that. Again, that's why you want to have the team involved. It could just be a tweak. It could be starting over. Maybe you're like, you know what? This whole set that was us 10 years ago, it no longer is. Start over. And it could be anywhere in between.

I know that some organizations choose values because it's something that they want to aspire to. And I know sometimes I like to do that as well. Just pick something that is a little bit of a stretch, but still very much doable. But we need to make sure that it's not too much of a stretch and that it's not too aspirational. Because really the values, they're supposed to represent our compass. They're supposed to be what is being lived in the organization today. It's supposed to be what tells team members how to make decisions, embracing those values. It is giving insight to clients into what matters most to the organization. And so that's why having them not just be aspirational is best, in my opinion, having something that is doable today. And yes, maybe a little bit of a stretch, but not truly aspirational ones. Again, these values are what we're supposed to embrace every day. They're what we're supposed to embrace and lean into during challenging times. And so we need to make sure that they resonate today.

Ensure the core values are embedded into the organization

Once you’ve reviewed your core values, and you're confident they're the right ones for now, and you feel that they're very much aligned, reaffirm your commitment to them. Use this opportunity to communicate with everyone the importance of these values. Communicate them to the team, communicate them on social media. Maybe even slip them as part of a conversation with your clients as it makes sense. Of course, don't start all of a sudden with every other sentence, “Well, as you know, since our core values are about XYZ, then…” No, don't do that. It's going to sound very, very odd. But it could be if you're talking about something and it truly relates and they have a question or concern, they say, “Well, this is one of our values. It's really important to us. We live it every day this way. This is how it's going to show up in our service to you. This is how it's going to show up in our product. This is how it's going to show up in our delivery.” And it could be something that the client may say, “Oh, okay, you know what? That really matters to me as well, so I'm going to pick you over your competitor.” I’ve seen this actually happen.

So really make sure that you communicate those and then ensure that they are truly embedded in the organization. Make sure that you and your leadership team are embodying those core values consistently. Consistently in your actions, consistently in decision-making.

As you know, your actions speak louder than your words. And this goes for everyone. I know that. But especially for leaders, because all eyes are on you and your behavior. So if you want values to thrive in your organization, you must embody them. You must be that role model for ethical behavior, transparency, and whatever other values your organization is embracing. When team members and clients see you living out the company's values, they are more likely to believe that they are truly expected to be upheld. And they may also just be inspired to do so themselves because if all they see is this set of values and you are not embracing any of them, or maybe just the one or two, then nobody's going to believe that this is what matters. And there's going to be this cynicism that's going to grow because it's like, “Oh, well, what's being said doesn't matter. It's what's being done and this is how things really are.”

Values don't thrive in that kind of environment. Then, what's the point of having them? So we want to make sure that we are living those. And it doesn't have to be this big sweeping gesture like, “Look at me, I'm living the values.” No, it doesn't have to be that. You can start super simple. If you fairly recently, let's say, changed your values, or even if it wasn't recently, but you're kind of finding that you're really not living them, that over the years, over the challenges, the values have kind of fallen by the wayside, start embracing them again and start simple. Start by making sure that you integrate even one value into daily practice and operations. Once you're comfortable that this one is engrained, then move on to the other one or the next one or whatever. But it doesn't have to be, “Alright, I'm doing this all in one effort.” Just start with the one, start a little bit, start as much as possible, and then it's going to become a habit.

Another way to integrate these is to start by incorporating them into your hiring process. Hire with those values in mind. Seek candidates whose values and mindset align with the organization’s. Just be careful here though, because what we're looking for is not hiring clones. We don't want everybody who thinks the same way and acts the same way because then we risk missing out on the magic of diversity of thought. And we really don't want to miss out on that. It's not good for an organization. There is a lot of room for various approaches and various points of views within specific values. So it's more about behaviors and ways to resolve issues.

Aligning metrics, goals and values

Once we've reviewed the values and ensured they are embedded, create some metrics to keep an eye on potential red flags. What are some goals or outcomes that could be measured that would signal that the values are being lived? What would successful daily operations look like?

Think about this. Think about how you could monitor this and then regularly assess how well your organization is upholding its values.

You can use feedback to make improvements and then make the adjustments that are necessary to realign yourself and get back to really, truly implementing them. Because what can happen is when it's new or when we've made this effort to make it happen, then everybody's excited. It’s top of mind, “Yes, we're doing this.”

But what happens a quarter down the road? What happens halfway through the year? They may have been forgotten because then we get back into the routine. We get back into operational requirements, the urgency of the day and that kind of thing.

To give you an example, think about when you come back from vacation. You know how you have this really big, beautiful vacation, it was great. You were disconnected. You come back and you're like, “Yes, I’m going to be different. I'm going to do this thing differently and that differently. I'm going to continue living this very balanced life.” How long does it last? A week? Two weeks? Three weeks? Maybe it doesn't even take long. Next thing you know, the vacation's long forgotten, and you're back to your old ways. It's the same thing with implementing the values. You get all excited, everybody's excited, they do it, and then, it's all forgotten. We're back to just reacting. So we really want to make sure that we're monitoring it throughout the year so that we can really, truly live those values and make sure that the values are thriving within the culture.

Even if the goals and metrics themselves that you have for the year are not specific to the values, have a look to make sure that they are not at least contradicting the values somehow. Maybe you created an objective or a goal, and it's completely impossible to accomplish without, let's say, breaking three or four values. You really want to pay attention to make sure that the way that you're creating your organizational goals are aligned as well. You have your goals and metrics, that's your main focus. But then in the background, you have those values.

If there is this difficult situation, this challenge that we need to overcome, then maybe for the short term we veer off a little bit. But if we do so, we need to do so intentionally and be clear on why and how long it's supposed to be. How long do you think that you will be veering off and when will you be coming back? Be very, very clear on that so that it's an intentional diversion and not an unintentional one that could leave you completely way off track.

And if it becomes the norm, if you find yourself constantly making these exceptions, then I'd say it's not really a value then. And then it's more of an aspiration. And if you notice that it's more of an aspiration, I'd say go back to reviewing your core values, because again, you don't want them to be too, too far off. Yes, some level of aspiration, but it's not a complete change.

Writing aspirational values is not something that's going to change your culture. You need to start working at incrementally changing the culture for the better before you can end up having those aspirational values.

Continuous reinforcement of the values

Creating an environment where values thrive is an ongoing process. Values are not static. They evolve with time. And this requires the leaders to commit to reviewing them, embedding them, and aligning their goals and metrics to them.

Continually check in and make sure that the daily operations are truly embodying these values. Starting with your own actions.

By fostering a culture where values are not just empty words, you will work at building a business that is truly anchored and aligned in messaging. This will likely positively impact your bottom line and harness this dynamic force that could very well propel your company forward.


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