Have you ever caught yourself asserting, “that wasn’t my intention” during an innocent-now-turned intense conversation that took you completely off guard?
Intention can be a tricky concept, especially when it comes to characterizing and promoting values in the workplace. So, you can imagine how difficult it can be for organizations to create values for their employees to exemplify in order to create a happy, healthy inclusive culture at the office. The intention may be good, but if there are no defined expectations for behaviors to encourage these values, they are utterly pointless.
Take “respect” as a value example: Many of our clients share this value. However, to one employee, respect might mean telling someone the absolute hard facts that come to mind for a particular strategy, also known as tell them how it is — be a straight shooter — it is to their benefit. On the flip side, to another employee, respect might mean allowing someone the space and ability to figure out the solution for themselves: don’t be overbearing — be a supporter, coach more — it is to their benefit.
The kicker here is both interpretations can be considered “right.” The real question companies should be asking themselves is, what does your culture expect? There is a need to define how your employees behave in everyday situations if they are to demonstrate the company’s most critical values.
It sounds so simple, yet it is often overlooked, and it is incredibly important to answer this question if you want an intentional, cohesive culture.
Let’s dig into four critical pieces that are needed to align behaviors with values and create better intention:
Survey Your Employees
The first step is to specifically ask how employees demonstrate your company’s values.
Whether you insert questions into a current employee engagement survey or create a new survey for this purpose, it’s very important to take the pulse on the current definitions and actions in your organization to get a direct peek into employees’ thoughts and views. For instance, with our Fierce value of “innovating with intention,” we would ask: How do you as an employee innovate with intention? What specific behaviors are shown?
After collecting responses, do an analysis to see whether the behaviors demonstrated are truly serving the organization’s goals and objectives. These survey results can be shared with the executive team and other champions in the organization.
While this may feel like a very “soft” exercise, it’s important to establish a “behavior baseline” and genuinely assess what training and engagement are needed. The leadership engagement is critical in ensuring that everyone has the same expectations for how people should act, or else you are back to square one again.
Train the Specific Skills
Effective, compelling training creates complete clarity around how one should behave or act in a situation. To tie behaviors to values, the training should have a “common language” component where everyone in the organization can use the same basic skill sets and frameworks, regardless of levels. If the values need to be exhibited throughout every level of the organization, the behaviors trained need to be as well.
Whether you hire a vendor who specializes in training or you build training from within, there are two common pitfalls to avoid: too much theory and not enough connecting with people’s emotions. Rather than passive learning, participants need engaging experiential learning in order for training to be fully effective.
The main goal is to remove the mystery of how values look and show up within your organization. I strongly suggest steering clear of highly theorized content that is not immediately actionable. Realize that training is an opportunity to make your values come to life in a manner that is accessible for everyone and improves every employee’s ability to do their job and connect to their company culture.
Furthermore, it’s paramount to connect with people’s emotions. It is one of the only ways that real behavior change happens. In Harvard Business Review’s How Company Culture Shapes Employee Motivation, after surveying 20,000 workers around the world and conducting experiments, they found that why people work determines how well they work. Training MUST connect to people’s why that drives them to come into work each day.
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Build Feedback Capacity
The skills to give, receive, and ask for feedback are some of the most sought-after leadership skills in today’s business world. These skills are tied to new performance management, employee engagement, manager effectiveness, and the list goes on and on and on. For your values to continually align and stay on course, employees at every level must be able to share feedback.
Feedback keeps us headed in the right direction — for our careers and for our companies. Whether we are driving or flying, we rarely get to a destination in a completely straight line. We need to go through continuous course corrections to arrive at our destination.
Ensure that your managers and leaders have the skill to use feedback as a critical tool, so they can share when fellow employees and the organization are swaying. As an organization, do not make this exercise a one-time endeavor — continually take a pulse to learn and stay in tune with any shifts that may be happening in your culture.
I was recently talking with a retail executive, and she shared with me that her team stepped away from their phones and computers for a whole strategy session. Everyone noted that they were present with one another in a new way.
One of the comments was, “I actually felt like I was paying attention to what I needed to, instead of the 10 distractions that come up every hour.”
On an individual level, it’s critical to be awake and aware of what’s taking place within your organization. Be present by being attentive. How are employees feeling? What is the current emotional climate? Are there opportunities to act out values that are being overlooked?
I’m sure you can relate to the feeling of distractions pulling you away from being present during meetings and throughout your day. Every day, whether we want to admit it or not, we pay a price for not being awake to this. Our actions and inactions have impact on our culture, plain and simple.
We have too much at stake to be in multiple places at once. Don’t look at Facebook and don’t check your emails during a call. Don’t text someone else when someone is talking to you. These actions may seem trivial, yet they are signals that reveal we may not be living our intention and carrying out our values in each moment. We’re all guilty of doing these things from time to time, but the more we notice it and adjust our actions, the more we can reduce the impact.
While building an intentional culture may feel like an ethereal task, these steps can bring the company culture you desire to life. It takes hard work and perseverance, but it is absolutely worth it!