Five actions for living your organisation’s values

One of the most significant challenges that staff struggle with is how to “live” their organisation’s values and behaviours. People often say to me, “I’m sick of ‘hearing’ about the values. No one does anything about them.” I then ask, “Do you believe in the values and behaviours yourself?

A typical response begins with, “Yeah, but…”.

This pattern indicates that the real challenge that staff face is that they don’t know ‘how’ to have conversations about the values with their peers and managers. This article will share five actions of which you can use one or more to increase your contribution to your organisation’s values in a positive, constructive manner.

1. Take responsibility for your role in bringing the values to life

People often like to ‘externalise’ the organisation’s values. In other words, they focus on everyone else, except for themselves. Their over-riding mental model is, “The only problem with the values is everyone else doesn’t follow them. I do, so the problem isn’t me.

If you can’t explain the values, at least in your own words in a manner that is consistent with your organisation’s values, then you haven’t taken them as seriously as you may like to suggest to others.

The simplest way to do this is to take each behavioural statement that supports your values and see if you can identify a concrete example that demonstrates that behaviour in action. For example, imagine you have a behaviour that reads, “We try to understand other’s points of view.” Recently you had been in a meeting with representatives from different business units. You noticed that one of your colleagues listened and clarified what the other colleague was saying, especially recognising the concerns that their colleague from the different business unit may have had on this issue. While the issue was a challenging one, you recognised that the quality of the listening that you witnessed helped to keep everyone focused on the bigger issues and enabled the meeting to be productive despite that challenges associated with the topic.

Upon ‘seeing’ this value demonstrated, you take responsibility for equally trying to understand other’s points of view, especially in the ‘heat of the moment.’ You notice yourself about to talk over the top of a colleague, and you stop yourself. You take a breath and listen, asking yourself, “Do I really understand what they are saying?

Establishing a clear set of examples that highlight, for you, your organisation’s values and behaviours in action, will enable you to have open conversations with your colleagues and peers because you can provide clear examples of what the values look like in action. It will also help you to be more aware of your behaviour.

There is no doubt that this action takes a bit of time. An option is to do this with your peers, or as an agenda item for your team meeting, and this will result in building shared mental models about how you can all bring your organisation’s values to life.

2. Be aware of your behaviour

Implicit in the first action is the requirement to raise your awareness of how you demonstrate the values and behaviours. It is very easy to externalise and focus on everyone else, but what about you? What concrete examples do you have of demonstrating them? To do this, check out action number three.

3. Invite feedback from colleagues

You don’t have to do a song and dance about this, ask a few colleagues if they wouldn’t mind providing you with some feedback on your behaviour at work. Explain that a candid response, with clear examples, is preferred. Colleagues will often be happy to provide you with feedback, but don’t know where to start. Providing them with a simple yet clear structure for their feedback to you will help them to overcome this obstacle.

The simplest structure is for them to provide you with behavioural feedback using the following three categories:

  • What behaviours should you keep doing?
  • What behaviours, if any, should you stop doing because they are not consistent with the agreed values and behaviours?
  • What behaviours, if any, should you start doing that will help you to be more aligned with the agreed values and behaviours?

This technique is especially important if you are in a leadership role. The brutal reality is that most people struggle to provide behavioural feedback to people who are more senior than themselves. Open the door to feedback from your direct reports by providing them with this structure to make it easier for them to give you constructive feedback.

When receiving feedback, ensure that you do not argue with it. Your role is not to agree with what you are told; rather, it is to understand what you are told. If you receive feedback that you do not understand, ask your colleague to tell you more about what they mean and to provide a specific, clear example. Remember, do not argue with the example or defend yourself. Your sole focus is to listen for understanding.

After you have received the feedback, thank your colleague for taking the time to be honest with you. If it is appropriate, ask them to keep an eye out for one or two behaviours that you are trying to stop, or start and ask them to provide you with immediate, private feedback when they observe these behaviours.

4. Recognise positive behaviours

One of the easiest ways to bring organisational values and behaviours to life is to start recognising colleagues for demonstrating the behaviours. This can also be a great way to start providing leaders with feedback. Provide specific examples. For example, say something like, “When you did ‘X’, that was a perfect example of [insert behaviour], and I appreciate it.

You may consider this form of feedback as ‘sucking-up’, especially when it is given to leaders. Only you will know if it is or it isn’t. If it is sucking-up, then don’t do it. If it isn’t, dare to share it. Your feedback will be appreciated.

5. Be honest and caring

One of my long-time heroes is Bob Dick. Many years ago, when attending his facilitator’s training, Bob shared that when giving feedback, you should always intend to be honest and caring. However, he noted that if, in your effort to be caring, you lessen the message, then you are becoming dishonest.

Genuine caring for other people means that you provide them with feedback in as caring a manner as possible while maintaining your honesty. Please note that this does not mean that you tell people exactly what you think. Our minds have a way of not being particularly caring, so telling someone exactly what you think may not be very caring. Use the best words you have available to you, provide clear and explicit examples and always speak with the intention that you are trying to help your colleague be the best they can be.

If the result is that the words you used weren’t taken by your colleague to be as caring as you intended, then fix that up later. The flipside is that when you are the one receiving feedback from a colleague, choose to believe that they are trying to be as honest and caring as possible, even if the words seem harsher than you had anticipated. Ask yourself, “At the end of the day, would I prefer to be given honest feedback, or would I prefer it to be watered down so that real message is lost?”. If you are serious about your organisation’s values and behaviours, then your response to this question is that you would prefer honesty.

When used in combination, all five actions create a powerful way to bring your organisation’s values and behaviours to life. But you can start with one action, and that’s okay because its ripple effect will be significant.

Gary Ryan helps talented professionals, their teams and organisations, move Beyond Being Good®

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