If you could wave a wand and have all of your employees behaving in certain ways, how would you want them to act?
It’s easy to get frustrated when an employee is behaving in a manner that doesn’t support your business—arriving late to meetings, speaking over others, or making rash decisions.
When you observe a negative behavior, you can try to correct it by calling the person into your office and giving him or her feedback.
For this approach to be effective, the feedback needs to be well-timed (right when the undesirable behavior occurs) and consistent (more than once).
We don’t change our ways readily or quickly. Adopting new behaviors take time, consistency, patience, and the right environment.
How to Improve Behavior
The alternative approach, used by a few extraordinary business leaders, is to determine, in advance, the idealized behaviors they want their team to embody.
Then, they encapsulate these behaviors into a set of core values that permeates throughout their organization.
Now, any business can put together a list of values.
Enron, for example, listed core values in their 2000 annual report including “Respect: We treat others as we would like to be treated” and “Integrity: We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely.”
Obviously, listing a set of values isn’t enough.
The Behaviors Your Business Values
Core values answer the question, “What does our company stand for?”
More than anything else, the actions and behaviors of your people determine what your business stands for.
The actual values of an organization are determined by where it invests its resources and how its employees behave, not what the leader says or what someone posts on your website.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings explains, “Actual company values are the behaviors and skills that are valued in fellow employees.”
Businesses that cultivate their culture hire and promote people who demonstrate their established set of core values. They train and enforce these idealized behaviors at every turn.
Core Values Require Specificity
To hire, train, and promote employees based on a set of values, your core values need to be specific so they can be measurable.
Enron’s lofty value of integrity and its brief description sounds nice, but could a manager evaluate if an employee was working with customers “openly, honestly, and sincerely”?
(And what about open, honest, and sincere communication within the organization? Clearly, that wasn’t valued at Enron either.)
In contrast, look at Netflix’s core value of honesty, a value similar to integrity. For Hasting’s organization, honesty means:
“You are known for candor and directness.”
“You are non-political when you disagree with others.”
“You only say things about fellow employees you will say to their face.”
“You are quick to admit mistakes.”
Can you see how these definitions make it easy for you to evaluate their people and potential hires?
Core Values are the CEO’s Responsibility
Ultimately, businesses that use core values to create a unique corporate culture have leaders who embody the same values they want their people to emulate.
Humans learn best through observing behavior, not words.
If a leader isn’t conducting herself with integrity, for example, the employees will not do so either.
Research carried out by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, shows employees are seven times more likely to show loyalty to leaders they believe have high integrity than to those they do not.
This statistic suggests that business leaders must be clear about two things.
First, they must know what behaviors are necessary to move their business towards their inspiring vision.
Second, they must resolve to live these practices, to the best of their ability, every day.
This commitment isn’t small. Could this explain why so few organizations create thriving cultures with engaged employees?
Discover your business’s core values with step-by-step instructions.
Read more: How to Make New Behaviors Last