Workplace Inspiration Is within Reach

June 24, 2016

Workplace Inspiration Is within Reach

Is your workplace dull, frustrating, and stressful, or is it safe, inspiring, and productive? Maybe somewhere in between?

We know the benefits of employee engagement on our businesses. We have seen the remarkable contributions team members make when they are treated with trust, respect, and dignity each day.

Yet very few of our workplaces consistently brim with enthusiasm, optimism, top results, rockstar service, and proactive problem solving.

The numbers are sobering. Gallup research found that only 32 percent of U.S. employees were engaged in 2015. That percentage has stayed pretty steady since 2011 when it measured 29 percent. Tiny HR’s "2014 Engagement and Culture" report found that only 21 percent of employees feel strongly valued at work. In addition, their report found that 64 percent of employees said their company does not have a strong, healthy culture.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced that 3.1 million workers voluntarily separated from their jobs in December 2015. In other words, they quit. The number of quits is higher now than in December 2007, the first month of the global recession. (Voluntary separations were much lower during that recession.)

What we’re doing today is not working. The way leaders lead doesn’t consistently inspire. Team members compete for limited recognition. Unhealthy work relationships cause illnesses, mistakes, and distrust. The norm in our work environments is, too often, "leaders and team members behaving badly."

We need to come at this from another perspective. We need an approach that makes values - the way leaders and team members treat each other at work - as important as results.

Performance and results are important things. They help sustain the business. They help pay leaders' and team members’ wages. They deliver on the promises you make to customers. All are wonderful things.

But results aren’t the only important things in your business. An exclusive focus on results can lead to bending (or breaking) of rules, “I win, you lose” behaviors and eroded engagement, service, and appreciation, as we’ve seen.

Leaders know how to manage results. They define performance expectations by specifying outcomes. They align behaviors to deliver on those performance commitments. They measure and monitor progress and accomplishment. The last piece—the critical piece—is holding everyone accountable for results. Leaders don’t do that consistently well today.

The challenge is that managing results is exactly half the leader’s job. Managing values is the other half.

However, leaders don’t know how to manage values. They’ve never been asked to do that. They’ve not had role models—past and current bosses—that did that. If they did have great bosses who managed values and performance effectively, that skill set didn’t stick. Leaders are not exposed to a lot of great bosses—they may see only one or two in their entire careers. So leaders don’t develop the skills required to manage values.

Your company may have values posted on the walls. They may be listed on a web page. But living those values is not common. Aligning plans, decisions, and actions to defined values takes leaders’ time, energy, and intention.

We need to teach leaders to manage values using a familiar approach—similar to how they manage results.

Leaders start by defining desired values by specifying the observable, tangible, measurable behaviors that they want all players to demonstrate. For example, if your company wants to have an “integrity” value, leaders would define how people are expected to act to ensure they’re modeling integrity. A sample behavior might be “keep your commitments.” If your company wants a “teamwork” value, a sample behavior might be “share information, especially mistakes, so that team members make the best decisions possible each moment."

I recommend companies have no more than four values with three to four behaviors each to fully define how you want that value to be modeled in day-to-day interactions.

Once valued behaviors are defined, leaders must model them. They must live them daily. How do leaders know if valued behaviors are being lived in your workplace? Leaders must measure and monitor the extent to which they and their leader peers demonstrate these valued behaviors.
Some say it’s impossible to measure values. We know better. We’ll measure valued behaviors with a twice-a-year custom values survey that enables team members to rate their bosses and senior leaders on how well those leaders model the defined valued behaviors.

Once leaders are seen as living valued behaviors daily, employees will see that the effort is credible and will be much more likely to embrace those valued behaviors themselves.

If you just focus on results, people can behave poorly with each other in the pursuit of those results. With reliable performance data and reliable values data, you’ll enjoy a much more well-rounded—and actionable—performance review each year.

Don’t leave your culture to chance. Make values and behaviors as important as performance.

The Authors: 

S. Chris Edmonds is a sought-after speaker, author, and executive consultant who is the founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group. After a 15-year executive career leading high-performing teams, Chris began his consulting company in 1990. He also serves as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Chris is one of Inc. magazine’s 100 Great Leadership Speakers and was a featured presenter at SXSW 2015.

Chris is the author of the Amazon bestseller The Culture Engine, the bestseller Leading at a Higher Level with Ken Blanchard, and five other books. Chris's blog, podcasts, research, and videos can be found at Driving Results Through Culture. Thousands of followers enjoy his daily quotes on organizational culture, servant leadership, and workplace inspiration on Twitter at @scedmonds.