In my book, No Yelling: The Nine Secrets of Marine Corps Leadership You Must Know to Win in Business, I talk passionately about culture and values. We are all influenced and shaped by our families’ values—for good, or bad, their culture becomes our culture. The same thing happens at work. Either by intention or default, your employees are getting a message from you, and following your lead when it comes to business values.
Let me share this recent personal experience to illustrate:
A few weeks ago, my son was chosen by his classmates to represent them on a class trip to Washington, DC, for a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns. I was away on business and unable to chaperone the trip. However, when I learned on Monday that he would participate in this event on Friday, I called my travel agent. I ended up getting home at 1 a.m. on Friday, then flew to DC a few hours later to be there for that 10 a.m. ceremony. (I flew back home in the afternoon—and took a nap.)
Many people were surprised at my actions, but my son appreciated the effort and, more importantly, he got the message: This is important. Things like this matter. I made it very clear through my actions what my values were.
Are you intentional about your values, or do your employees simply do what they want to do with no regard for how you want your business run? Or worse, do you say one thing and do another, thereby neutering your values and diminishing your integrity?
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The Value of ValuesIt's important to remind yourself why values matter and are important. Values have been described as personal—or organizational—North Stars. Having values means we have a constant fixture to guide us in the face of uncertainty. In the Northern Hemisphere, as long as you can see the North Star, you can navigate successfully, whatever the circumstances, and arrive at your intended destination.
Similarly, instilling corporate values enables employees to make good decisions if no leader or other source of guidance is available. We can’t assume that employees will automatically mirror our values, so we must take the time to talk to them about what matters, and why. Don’t overcomplicate this—the simple act of talking about values reinforces their importance in your employees’ minds.
So how do companies go about instilling values in the workplace? One organization I know promotes values of LITE: Legacy, Integrity, Teamwork and Excellence. It has even created the LITE Awards to recognize people who are living the values. Its extended leadership team recently met to confirm these values and recommit to ingraining them in the culture.
Another firm I work with values excellence. When employees return from an outside training event or meeting, they are expected to brief their manager and co-workers on the key lessons learned and what they will do differently as a result of having attended the training.
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One business I know highlights a value to discuss at every major meeting. Someone, a senior leader or perhaps even a younger employee, will share personal insights on the value, which leads to small group discussions on that ideal. Then either the president or other senior executive will present a summary of the importance of the value.
Unfortunately, not everyone will follow those values. The key here is to not turn away. If you look the other way, you're sending a message too, which says, “You know all that stuff I was saying about how important our values are? Forget it. I didn’t really mean it. In fact, you can’t really trust a lot of what I say.” Extreme? Not really. When you say one thing and do another, you create a “do as I say, not as I do” culture.
We sometimes fail to realize how much our behavior matters. We give ourselves a pass when we stumble. We had good intentions. We are only human, true, but we are also leaders. And, just as I have a responsibility to my son, business leaders have a responsibility to instill strong values into their companies’ cultures—and to lead by example.
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