Are Your Organisational Values Just Hot Air?

If your organisational values are just hot air, read on. In this article we look at four simple ways to instill values within an organisation so they’re lived and breathed by your people.

Many organisations have a set of values they expect their people to embody. Some even have posters on the walls emblazoned with ideals of how we do things round here. However, saying we want our people to think and behave a certain way does not necessarily mean they will.

So, how do you instill values in your organisation?

1. Lead by example.

Leadership starts with self-leadership. Don’t expect others to do as you say if you’re not walking your talk.

“Change the world by your example not your opinion.”

– Paul Coelho

To monitor if your own actions align with the values you’re expecting others to embody requires a level of “intra-personal intelligence” (relationship with self), plus the ego strength to look honestly and accurately. A skilled developmental coach can help you see yourself clearly, and show you any blind-spots and habituated patterns of thinking and behaviour that run outside your awareness.

If you’re a leader within your organisation, your people will be watching and modelling your actions and behaviours, both consciously and unconsciously.

This is partly due to the existence of mirror neurons, which fire off when we perform an action, and when we watch another human perform that same action. The neuron ‘mirrors’ the actions of others as though the observer is actually doing the behaviour themselves.

You can test this phenomenon for yourself. Simply walk down the street with a big smile on your face and watch what happens to the faces of any passersby.

If you want your team to embody specific values, first look closely at the values you’re modeling (intentionally or unintentionally) through your actions and behaviours.

2. Keep It Simple

If an organisation has a long shopping list of values it’s unlikely they will be remembered or embodied by its people.

Single out three or four values that are essential principles and focus on these.

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

– Steve Jobs

Once you’ve identified the core values of your organisation, ensure your people are on the same page as you. To do that…

3. Make Your Values Operational

Its critical to ensure the organisations core values are understood by your team. Invest time training your people. Explain what each value means, translating them from principles into teachable and observable behaviours.

For each value, identify three behaviors that are aligned, along with three behaviours that are counter to the value. Be specific. For example, if brave is the value, an aligned behaviour could be speaking the truth even when it feels uncomfortable, and a counter behaviour might be, saying what feels politically correct to avoid potential conflict.

Identify any missing skillsets, and provide instruction wherever necessary to upgrade them.

Once you’ve explained the values in depth to your team, identified behaviourally what they look and sound like, and trained any missing skills, there is one more step. Discuss how you will hold each other accountable, leaders included, for embodying the agreed values.

If you don’t take the time to bring your company’s values to life, you’re better off not having the values to begin with. They might be framed and on the wall, but they won’t be in the hearts and actions of your team.

It is because we frame things (activities, people, to-do’s) in a particular way (frustrating, dull, tedious) we then have to motivate ourselves in the face of our own framework of meaning. Reframe the meaning and the problem is solved.

4. Have Values, Don’t Let Values Have You

If we’re not aware, values can have us, rather than the other way around.

For example, let’s say ‘respect’ is a value within your organisation.

Now imagine someone is disrespectful to you, let’s say they spoke over you in a meeting, how do you react? If you jump in and disrupt their conversation, or send a curt email later that day telling them they were rude to interrupt you – your value of respect has you being disrespectful – by your own set of standards.

Values have the potential to become a rigid set of rules that encourage us to react righteously and impulsively, rather than respond with awareness.

Values are better held loosely, as a guide. Then they become principles to live by allowing us to take into account all the varying factors in any given moment (e.g. your current levels of stress, other external factors, the state of others around you) and then chose to respond as best we can in any given moment.

In Conclusion

If your organisational values are hot air, using these four approaches will help you to instill and embody them within the culture.

Remember that all leadership starts with self-leadership and to be the best leader you can be, you need to seek out feedback to be able to see what you cannot see about yourself.

To start unleashing your full potential as a leader, click here to book in for a 30-45 minute no-obligation Discovery Coaching Session now.


Integral Leadership Coaching Sydney

Written by Soo Balbi

Soo is a behavioural expert and one of Australia’s leading Developmental Coaches who helps women thrive. Soo assists her clients to cut to the heart of any challenge, enabling choices and possibilities previously unavailable.

Contact Soo today

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