Hollow Values Are More Damaging than None
Values are the hidden strings with the strongest pull on us. They have the power to direct our thoughts, behaviors, and even the course of our lives.
My most important values stretch me into places that are not always comfortable or easy, but that I believe are vital: Humanity, connection, kindness, openness, gratitude, and gracefulness are matched with courage, endurance, and willingness.
That is why it is critical to mindfully and carefully craft your organization’s values. Make them aspirational. Inspire yourself and your team with the way you desire to support and connect with one another and truly care for your clients.
Whatever values you choose, know that they will not be forever etched in stone. As your organization matures, as your team grows, and as they become ever more connected with one another, your collective values will subtly shift. As a leader, you can guide that shift or allow it to take its course if it leads to positive transformation that benefits all of you: leaders, teams, and clients.
Values help organizations achieve their goals.
When you create and teach values, you give your team the gift of guiding principles that can lead them to common goals. As they endeavor to adopt values such as trustworthiness or curiosity, their behavior begins to adapt: They become people who do what they say they will do (exhibiting trustworthiness), and they ask questions that lead to insights from which the whole team can benefit (exhibiting curiosity).
As the group, with you as their example, begins to align their actions to core values, the company culture coalesces. Congruence of action, thought, and culture fuels collective energy and inspires creativity.
Values guide your goal-creation. Your goals may change, but your values are constant, as long as you choose to believe in them and aspire to them. Until you reevaluate, they are there to provide direction, motivation, and purpose. When your team is acting according to your values, and your goals are built upon the foundation of those values, achieving those goals becomes reachable. A way forward is evident.
As a leader, you must constantly work to embody these values in order to inspire the whole team. All eyes are on you, and that is a good thing.
Why? Certain values, when embodied by leadership, create measurable results. For example, firms in which leaders are perceived to have integrity by their employees experience higher productivity, greater profitability, better corporate relationships within their industry, and are more attractive to prospective people.(1)
A warning, though. Hollow values are more damaging than none. Creating a list of warm and fuzzy feelings does nothing if it is ignored shortly after it is made. Worse, it can damage your credibility to your clients and dispirit your team. Once you have identified your core values, integrate them into every decision. To do their best work, they must be present from hiring to performance management to brainstorming sessions to client meetings to dismissals. They become the air you breathe.
Values create team cohesiveness that can pull them through difficult times.
Values are bedrock. They undergird your team’s mission, and they give you the firm foundation you need when your world is shaken.
When your company is experiencing hardship, your people crave stability. They need to lean on the shoulders of your values when everything else seems shattered. Your values become not only their rock, they become their beacon of light. They are a flame around which to gather and remember what it is you stand for, why you are special, and that you can continue to do good things together.
In a time of stress, upholding your core values provides your people a sense of right and of familiarity, and a feeling of relief.
Every company experiences hardship. Perhaps at this world moment, every company is experiencing hardship. We are in a time of testing, when true colors are shown. What might those colors be?
This test is a tremendous gift, an opportunity to discover what it looks like to serve your team and your clients with patience and kindness from a physical distance. It is the moment to practice extra measures of grace. It is a time for the exercise of imagination when things cannot be done the way you have always done them.
There is little to fear during hardship if collectively you have been striving to live and work by your proclaimed values. If in your role as leader you have seeded truth, compassion, and courage, your people will be equipped to carry on, to continue to engage, to persist together, to dream, and to create.
I wonder, what will be the values you instill in your organization?
(1) Guiso, Luigi & Sapienza, Paola & Zingales, Luigi. (2014). The Value of Corporate Culture. Journal of Financial Economics 117. 10.1016/j.jfineco.2014.05.010.