Maneuver and Values-Based Leadership in Business

Interactive forum for the exchange of ideas pertaining to: the experiences of the change management consulting and hands-on leadership training firm, Santamaria & Martino LLC and the message of our book, The Marine Corps Way, which applies military strategy and leadership to business

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Friday, August 05, 2005

Making Core Values Resonate

This posting, which describes how to make your organization’s core values more meaningful, is the second in a three-part series on how we helped a consulting client effect major cultural change. Next month, we will describe how we helped that client create a system for the tiered recognition of superior achievement to boost morale and reinforce desired behavior.

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Most organizations have core values, but many organizations’ core values fall short of resonating with employees. Below, we describe how we helped a 300-member organization not only draft but also reinforce a set of (previously non-existent) core values, thereby creating a baseline for the establishment of a common, cohesive culture.

The Challenge

As a result of large-scale lateral hires and years of “scrambling to stay on top of” rapid growth, the organization lacked a common, cohesive culture. Core values were non-existent, as corporate executives had never before invested in their creation. And this underinvestment created a void: employees hungered for something to shape their decision-making criteria, define appropriate behavior, and set priorities in the organization.

How We Solved It

Conducted an informal poll. After assisting in the formulation and communication of the organization’s long-term strategy, we informally polled numerous employees as to what they thought the organization should “stand for.” Where we saw trends in the responses, we began to construct a list of 7-10 possible values; we then attempted a first draft of 7-10 possible definitions.

Narrowed the list and refined definitions. We then assembled a cross-functional team of employees, ranging from individual contributor to executive, to review the list and narrow the number of possible values to 3-5. After what seemed like countless iterations, we reached agreement on 4 values and their definitions. We then “beta tested” the values and definitions with employees outside of the committee, solicited input, and further revised the language.

Published a final draft: the final version we published was warmly received at all levels of the organization. Written by a representative sample of the very people who were being asked to embrace the core values, the final version: 1) fit the organization’s long-term strategy, 2) was easily understood, and 3) consisted of pledges (“we will . . .”, “I will . . .”), rather than dry definitions.

The following are the values the committee drafted:

  • Excellence: we will think and act as one team to deliver products and services that create breakthrough value for our customers
  • Integrity: we will uphold the highest standards of ethical behavior and honesty at all times
  • Ingenuity: we will embrace change, be creative, and take calculated risks to make [our company] successful and meet the dynamic needs of our customers
  • Ownership: I will accept personal responsibility and accountability for the work I do and the commitments I make so that people can rely on me with utmost confidence

Challenged everyone in the organization – especially managers – to “walk the talk”: The exhaustive effort of drafting the core values was just the beginning; the real effort came as we endeavored to reinforce the core values. We posted signs wherever we could – on doors, in hallways, in conference rooms, and over work stations. Senior managers committed to upholding the values through their actions and holding their teams accountable for doing the same. Project team members repeatedly asked each other, “is this decision / course of action consistent with our core values?” Finally, we worked with employees and senior managers to create “core values awards” for recognizing achievement that exemplified the values (more on this initiative next month . . .).

Lessons Learned and Prescriptions

  • Whether you are creating a set of new core values or placing renewed emphasis on an existing set of core values, senior managers should remember three things: 1. Constantly uphold those values through actions and hold your people accountable for doing the same 2. Constantly uphold those values through actions and hold your people accountable for doing the same 3. Constantly uphold those values through actions and hold your people accountable for doing the same
  • If you are going to ask your people to embrace a set of core values, include them in the planning / drafting effort; don't just impose values from the top-down!
  • Values should further your organization’s long-term strategic goals
  • Wording should be crisp, compelling, and easy-to-understand; an organization generally should have no more than six core values
  • Finally, remember that at work, people are seeking not only a paycheck but also a sense of belonging. Give them a set of ideals with which they can identify and to which they can aspire

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