The role that organisational values play in defining the way people behave in modern organisations is frequently overstated. It’s not that values shouldn’t play a leading role (we certainly believe they should), it’s simply that in most organisations they don’t. There’s no doubt that aligning organisation behaviours and practices with a set of aspirational values is hard and most organisations fail to get it right.
While today’s typical organisation probably does have a set of values on the wall behind reception for people to read on the way in, what actually happens on the floor is far too often (and occasionally radically) misaligned. Both leaders and team members have grown fatigued by hearing one thing and experiencing another. Yet, the move to remote leadership as the “new normal” for many leaders might be precisely the catalyst that organisations need to get their values off the reception wall and into the day-to-day behaviours and practices of their people on the ground.
There are three opportunities.
By deliberately aligning one’s own leadership behaviours and practices to the organisation’s values, each leader has a very real opportunity to push reset and even reinvent himself if necessary. If one of the words on the wall behind reception is TRUST, then it is critical to look for every opening you have to extend trust to the team, and also demonstrate that you are trustworthy, by sticking to every commitment you make (especially if this wasn’t previously a habit). If one of the words is COLLABORATION then figure out how to be available and get involved with team outcomes. Resist the temptation of asking people to get on with it, choosing to provide your input only right at the end. Make sure that appropriate collaborative technologies are in place. Make sure that people are trained in how to use them.
The above examples may seem simple, but they can have a profound impact on how your commitment to the organisation’s values is perceived by your team as well as by others more broadly.
Building trust and working as a unit despite being situated remotely from one another requires that teams develop predictable “norms” for how individuals behave and interact with one another. From knowing under what conditions it’s appropriate to contact team members after hours, to agreeing what communication channels work best for everyone, there will be multiple opportunities to embed the organisation’s values by deliberately linking each agreed standard to the value/s it evidences.
A couple of examples. Agreeing that we will limit after hours communication to only crisis situations may evidence our commitment to HEALTHY WORK/LIFE BALANCE. Agreeing to use video communication wherever possible might evidence commitment to RELATIONSHIPS or COLLABORATION.
It is true that carefully-chosen values are an important mechanism to communicate both internally and externally the kind of organisation (and leaders) we aspire to be. But they are also more than that. Values form the basis of decision-making, of trust, of legitimacy in the organisation. By informing how we behave and make decisions, our values go on to lay the foundation for how we perform: customer service, efficiency, effectiveness, profitability, employee engagement etc.
As team members start, for example, to experience better team outcomes because of shared commitment to COLLABORATION, so they start to commit more to collaborating. As team members begin to experience their colleagues to be increasingly reliable following joint commitment to ACCOUNTABILITY, so individuals themselves begin to take more ownership and accountability. And so a self-reinforcing cycle can take hold.
The opportunities are right in front of us. Let’s use them.