Build an Intentional Culture: 3 Tips to Align Behavior with Company Values

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Intention is our aim, our objective. It is defined as a determination to act in a certain way. 

Let’s take a look at the word “act” here. While many organizations have core values that create intention, oftentimes the values are not cohesive with  leader and employee actions. In other words, 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.

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. For example, tell them how it is – be a straight shooter  it is to their benefit. On the other hand, to another employee, respect might mean allowing someone the space and ability to figure it out for themselves: don’t be overbearing – be a supporter, coach more – it is to their benefit.

Both interpretations are “right.” So, the real question is: What does your culture expect? It’s important to answer this question if you want an intentional, cohesive culture.

Let’s dig into four critical pieces to align behaviors with values and create more 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 is very critical to take the pulse on the current definitions and actions in your organization. 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 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 is important to establish a “behavior baseline” and really 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.

Train the Specific Skills  

Effective 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.

Firstly, the main goal is to remove the mystery of how values look and show up in your organization. Steer 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.

Secondly, it is important 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. Self-generated insights should be created in the training, and oftentimes, that piece is not as strong as it could be when organizations roll-out their training.

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. The skill is tied to new performance management, employee engagement, manager effectiveness, and the list goes on and on and on. In order for your values to continually align and stay on course, employees at every level must be able to share feedback.

In our Fierce feedback model, we talk about waypoints. A waypoint is typically used for purposes of navigation and acts as a reference point to help know where we are and where we are going. Whether we are driving, or flying, waypoints help us get there. The point is, we rarely get to a destination in a completely straight line. We need to go through continuous course corrections to arrive at our destination. Feedback can be seen as a series of waypoints to keep us headed in the right direction – for our careers and for our companies.

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.

Be Present

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 am sure you can relate to the feeling of distractions pulling you away from being present during meetings and throughout your day. And 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.

We have too much at stake to be in multiple places at once. Don’t look at Facebook or 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. We are 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…and, it’s worth it!

It’s important for cultures to be both intentional and inclusive. Check out our whitepaper in building an inclusive culture for more tips to improve your company culture.

Download here.


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