Values guide us from within and inspire us from without: We are influenced by the values of those with whom we spend the most time. We internalize certain of those values and allow our worldview and actions to be shaped accordingly.
Do you know the values by which you work? I suspect that you do.
You are familiar with the motto emblazoned on your company’s promotional materials. Perhaps you created it yourself. These words declare the principles that undergird your company mission and clarify your corporate vision. Lofty values such as gracefulness or courage are meant to inspire belief in an entity greater than any individual: Together we can do great things. When taken seriously and used effectively, they can guide every decision, from greatest to least. Skillfully woven into the fabric of corporate life, values also impart a certain comfort. They offer familiarity and safety for your team through every circumstance and serve as a compass during the most uncertain of times.
These corporate values reflect the aspirations of leadership. As such, they are ideally embodied in a leader’s every action, impart a subtle — or sometimes bold — flavor to their speech, and are written in their demeanor. The team looks to their leader to learn what it means to correct with grace, or to persevere through a daunting task.
But what about shared values — the ways we connect with each other? Shared values are present in the unwritten rules and norms by which we interact. Do we listen to each other with compassion? Do we praise our colleagues for their contributions? Do we give grace when coworkers get things wrong? Do we live the values we believe in?
Shared values are the glue for your team — they engender stronger engagement, greater passion, deeper loyalty, and — not surprisingly — higher productivity.
The company culture powered by the synergy of shared values and company values is so important to your people that they will leave their current job — and even take a pay cut — to work at a place with better culture.(1)
But a leader cannot — nor should they — impose shared values. since each individual brings their own set of values that they have absorbed over time, or have deliberately chosen. But more consequential, an attempt to dictate shared values quashes workplace diversity, impoverishing the team.
How to Foster Positive Shared Values
Because company values are woven into daily, lived practice, they can help to shape shared values. As we aspire to company values such as endurance or kindness, these ideas become planted within our individual selves. We begin to grow together into human beings who are able to persevere, and who show kindness to others.
As we grow into the people we say we are, another benefit emerges: A team that is known for aligning its actions with its stated values will draw others to itself: As your organization’s reputation for compassion, for innovation, or for humaneness grows, like-minded individuals will clamor to be a part. Then the very act of hiring new people who are eager to share in your company values will bring greater cohesion to your team’s shared values. They will begin to crystalize into recognizable form.
Leaders can also guide their team on a voyage of discovery, to help them uncover and rejoice in their shared values. They can bridge the divides presented by age, varying levels of experience, or diverse backgrounds by deliberately fostering relationships within their team. They can encourage or even create mentor-mentee relationships that will increase trust between team members, and have the potential to develop into true friendships.
These relationships allow your people the freedom to dream and to try new things knowing they have the support of their peers.
What if you could bring dynamic, affirming energy to your team? What if you could create connections between your people and provide the kind of supportive, exciting environment that makes your workplace a locus of creativity, innovation, and resilience? What would it look like for you to have your company culture operate on shared values?