As a business leader you can get a lot more bang for your buck establishing values, rather than a set of rules to govern your company. A set of core values can cover hundreds, if not thousands, of scenarios and situations, far more than any set of rules could.
This method also encourages all the members of the group to hold accountability, rather than top-down enforcement, according to Robert Glazer, CEO of Acceleration Partners and the author of the international bestselling book Performance Partnerships. People feel more empowered to openly question decisions or actions that are incongruous with the values.
The Federal Bank Reserve of New York has published a new podcast series called “Bank Notes” that dives into banking culture reform, examining the norms and mindsets that contribute to ethical decision-making.
Episode #3 is titled, “Establishing Values, Not Rules” and features Mark Mortensen, an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD. He studies collaboration, team dynamics, and communication.
The foundation of every great team is a direction that energizes, orients, and engages its members, Mortensen says. Strong cultures thrive from shared values, and an aligned vision. Working toward the greater good, with shared values, beyond “What’s in it for me?” and other forms of self interest.
Glazer recommends five steps to ensure your team takes the organization’s established values seriously.
- Choose values that make your business stand apart. Glazer says that words like “integrity” and “transparency” really are not core values, they are the basic “table stakes” of any workplace or employee. Core values are in your organization’s DNA and should be at the heart of what makes it special to work at your company specifically. A well-grounded set of core values is fundamental in setting the tone for your culture, defining your internal brand and shaping your overall business strategy. It’s crucial that you develop a framework that truly suits your brand. Read more on bankable core values here.
- Keep the list short. Employees should be able to remember company values without a piece of paper, Glazer said. After years of using six core values, Glazer’s company, Acceleration Partners, reluctantly narrowed the list at our company down to three and now considers it one of their best decisions. Glazer says shortening the list made a huge difference–particularly in judging performance and guiding decision-making.
Here are their values:
- Own It. Step up to the opportunities, bet on your own abilities, and rise to the occasion.
- Embrace Relationships. Relationships advance personal and professional lives, contributing greatly to successes.
- Excel & Improve. Excellence and continuous improvement are inextricably intertwined.
- Communicate and support the values you set. It’s not enough to have core values. Glazer says you have to live them. Company leaders need to talk about core values a lot, tell core values stories, and use values in the language of the day-to-day business. Call out people for both living by them and breaking them. Values should drive behavior. You can read Thoma Principal Melissa Thoma’s blog on “How to Live Your Brand” here.
- Encourage collective enforcement. Values are far more effective than rules at eliciting desired outcomes and behaviors. It’s virtually impossible to cover all possible situations with rules or monitor minute-by-minute adherence. In contrast, values can cover an endless variety of situations. Most importantly, enforcement comes from all the employees, who should be encouraged to openly question decisions or actions that are incongruous with the values. This is what translates values from words on paper into lived company culture.
- Hire, promote, and fire based on values. Keeping someone whose views and actions clash with the culture sends a very bad message to the rest of the company. Even if the employee is a top-performer, the best companies cut the cord when they realize there is a culture or values mismatch. To avoid getting to this point, be sure to include behavior-based core value questions in the interview process and use them in performance reviews and promotion decisions. This follow-through shows everyone that the company is consistent in supporting values at every level.