If you have walked through the hallways of many corporate offices these days, chances are you have seen a nice set of value statements or guiding principles proudly hanging on the wall. The problem with these fancy value statements is that what is so often misunderstood is that there is a difference between a value and a value statement.
For example, you may have had the experience of staying in a hotel where somewhere in the lobby there is a statement that in effect says, “our number one value is our customers.” And then when speaking to the front clerk you wonder if she even read this statement recently.
It’s relatively easy to develop a value statement. I’ve been hired to help write many of them. To develop such statements, most leadership teams go to a retreat center where they can get some inspiration. They then bring them back, and, like Moses, roll out their inspiring “ten commandments,” putting them on the walls, website, and computer screens.
But what’s important is not how inspiring your values sound, but how soundly your values inspire others. In other words, how are you holding yourself and each other accountable for turning these “statements” into real values? How are you making the values real? How are you getting those decorative statements off the wall and into the hearts of every employee? How are you making sure that no hire makes the cut unless they prove that they live the values? How do you ensure that no one gets promoted unless they clearly demonstrate the values in their leadership? If there are no consequences for not living the values or recognition or incentives for living the values, then you don’t have values; you only have statements.
Let’s use Respect as an example…
If you have seen a set of these value statements, you will in all likelihood have seen the word “respect” somewhere on the list.
I measure respect in two ways. You are welcome to borrow or steal my way of determining whether a leader is respectful. After all, I likely stole them from a leader I respect. Alternatively, you can come up with your own measurement. What’s important is that everyone in your organization understands precisely what respect means in their specific world and everyone is expected to live that way.
First, I expect myself to act in a way that you will feel safe in my presence – both psychologically and physically. You can define safe in any way you want, but I am accountable in all my relationships to create a place where people feel safe to be honest, to make mistakes, and to be who they are. If you don’t feel safe in my presence – for any reason – then I am not acting with respect.
Second, I expect myself to act in a way that when you are around me, you feel better about yourself. If you feel worse about yourself in my presence for any reason, then I am not being respectful. And anyone, at any time, can come and address their lack of concern without repercussions.
While I claim to have a sincere desire to act respectfully at all times, I also know that I’m human and am not going to be perceived as being respectful all the time. And I expect to be challenged by the people in my life when I’m not respectful.
It’s disrespectful to claim to be respectful and then not respect people for talking about a perceived lack of respect. There is always a gap between what an organization claims to be and how people actually behave. The key isn’t about perfection or even trying to be perfect. Instead, it’s about an open conversation when there is a perceived gap.
Until you can clearly measure your values with defined behaviors, until you can have respectful conversations about a perceived misalignment of values, until you can hold yourself and others to account for their choices, and actually have some defined consequences for not living the values, you haven’t got values. You only have statements.
What is your process for holding yourself and others accountable for living your espoused values? Drop me a note: https://www.davidirvine.ca/contact/ I can help you with that.