At Padraig, we work with a lot of leaders.
Sometimes they lead a unit or a group of frontline staff within their organization, sometimes they have layers of managers and staff reporting to them, and often they are the CEO with everyone reporting to them.
One of the most frequent challenges our senior leaders talk about is the struggle to deliver on their organization’s vision — to make real the ideal. Often that comes down to the culture in the organization.
Culture is a direct result of the values you exhibit
Many of our client organizations have rock-solid vision statements. They clearly define what they’re aiming to do, where they want to be as an organization, and ideally, why they want that. The why is essential because it helps to define the values they live by in their organization.
Some organizations excel in accelerating toward their vision. It seems as if everyone in the organization knows where they want to be and why they want to be there; they’re driven to deliver on that vision in their day-to-day work.
Having a well-crafted vision statement is an essential starting point. But, why is it that some organizations, with great vision statements, are excelling and others don’t seem to be getting there?
It often comes down to Values and Culture
How do you work together? How do you treat each other? Do we value conflict around ideas or do we value people who keep their issues to themselves and do the job they’re given. The key is to be able to name the values you strive for and then to live them. That means modeling those behaviours as the leader and truly welcoming the behaviours in others.
So why do I say that — who wouldn’t welcome someone living up to the values they asked for?
Well, I’ve worked in a couple of organizations where we defined our values, we debated what we wanted to see, we put them down on paper, heck we sometimes even made posters for the boardroom wall. And then we sometimes forgot about them when they were most needed. But, not intentionally! Sometimes competing pressures drew us away from what we thought were our values.
Take, for example, a company we worked with recently whose values were aligned with some of the most successful value statements out there:
- We have high aspirations and a desire to win.
- We are focused on our customers.
- We think like owners.
- We drive toward action.
- We each see ourselves as key members of multiple teams.
- We bring our passion and excitement for (…) to work every day.
These are pretty good values — one can see where they could really help an organization achieve great things if tied to a great vision. However, when push came to shove, as they say, some of these values weren’t always being lived. For example, “we think like owners” seemed like a great idea at the time, encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset in staff at all levels of the organization. The challenge was two-fold: preparing people for that expectation and then actually accepting it when it was needed.
Let me explain.
When a customer had a problem, frontline staff didn’t feel equipped to make important decisions to address the need themselves. And, when fixing that customer’s problem meant costing the company financially, management got very uncomfortable with the idea of frontline staff making those decisions. YET, allowing staff to fix the customer’s problem quickly, on the spot, would have definitely lived up to, “We are focused on customers” AND “We think like owners.”
So what was the result?
The customer didn’t feel like they were the focus, frontline staff felt ill-equipped and uncomfortable to live up to the values the company espoused and, perhaps worst of all, staff at all levels of the company saw this unfold more than once and concluded that these values weren’t true. They concluded that the values were platitudes on the boardroom wall that management didn’t actually believe which led to a culture of mistrust, uncertainty, and underperforming.
So what’s the solution?
Well, the company above was great at the first step — agree among yourselves what you value.
Then, brainstorm how that might unfold. When you come up with an example where push comes to shove, share your concerns openly, debate what that value would look like, and whether or not there is an overriding value that is more important
For example, if the client above had proactively thought through the potential conflict around fixing customers’ problems, they could have then decided if they value cost-savings and profit on individual transactions more than a customer first and entrepreneurial approach. If they chose to stick with their original values, the brainstorming would have helped them figure out, ahead of time, what they needed to do to make that real by putting parameters in place. If they were better prepared, they could have lived up to their values and, thus, formed the culture they aspired to much more successfully.
Accountability is another important piece in ensuring that behaviour is consistent with the vision. If you ignore the behaviour of others who act inconsistently with the vision, you threaten the trust and alignment of the people who are behaving consistently with it. Accountability does not mean finger-pointing and accusations. It means having Essential Conversations to keep everyone on the same page. It means learning together from mistakes because you care about each other. Help each other stay on track by celebrating wins and catching each other doing things right.
Communicate your organization’s vision and values through multiple channels.
Whose job is it to remind us of our vision and values? Many believe it is the CEO’s job. Others see it in the HR Director’s job description. But in the best organizations, it’s clear that every leader and every function sees it as their responsibility to own and communicate the vision.
When the communication comes from leaders throughout the organization, the possibility of having it understood, embraced and executed increases substantially. When staff hear about values from the CEO and no one else, they often feel they have no one they can question about it, no one they can challenge to help them solve a real-life problem like the customer service situation above. Whereas if all leaders are united in their talk about the vision and values, staff have many people they can turn to for advice, coaching, and guidance.
Ultimately, as people see the greater good that comes from aligned vision and values, a strong and successful organizational culture develops, employees know how they fit into that culture and can decide if it’s the right place for them, prospective employees know what you stand for, word spreads about your culture and work life and soon you’re racing towards success on your vision.
What are your organization’s vision and values? Are they well known? Agreed upon? If so, are you all living up to them all the time? If not, what needs to change?