This article was based on episode 76 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get the mini-guide here or the full guide when you become a member at mamieks.com/join. Purchase a single full guide at mamieks.com/store.
I’d guess your team talks about goals (or outcomes or impact or accomplishments) regularly. They come up in your team meetings, your performance management system, your one-on-ones, your individual growth or development plans. You chat about them on Slack and by email. You may even make dashboards to track progress. Goals are front and center. Values, on the other hand, are almost nowhere to be seen.
Unfortunately it’s all too common for the list of publicly stated values to become a set of aspirational words posted on a website or office wall but devoid of any actual meaning. This happens because we spend more time crafting an ideal set of values than making the internal changes required to integrate them into your culture.
Values are critically important in any workplace, but the real work begins when values creation process ends. Bringing your values to life is the hard part, but also the part that is transformative.
BRING YOUR VALUES TO LIFE
It’s not enough to say we value creativity or put relationships first. To embody your team’s values, you must elevate them to the same importance as your goals. Behaving according to the team’s values is not a ‘nice-to-have’ or an afterthought. It’s part of the team’s DNA. To help your team embrace the values, do the following:
Translate the values into norms or specific behaviors that you can measure.
Incorporate accountability for these values and norms into your accountability systems (e.g. performance management program, individual development plans, team meetings.)
Redesign or update any existing systems, processes, or ways of working that are not aligned with your values.
ESTABLISH CLEAR NORMS
Norms are the accepted standards or a way of behaving that are considered normal for work interactions.
Not all norms are explicit. Often they evolved based on the team leader or other strong personalities. When they’re unspoken, we pick up cues about the norms by observing colleagues. These cues help us adapt our own behavior to fit the cultural environment.
Norms can be both positive and negative on the human experience. For example, some teams have norms that working after hours or while out on vacation is expected, while other teams have norms of just the opposite.
Norms both reflect and help perpetuate your values. When your team’s values are aspirational, specifically translating them into norms will help everyone identify the behaviors they want to hold themselves and each other accountable to.
To generate norms, ask the group the following questions for each value:
What behaviors would I see (or not) if people were acting in alignment with value?
What words would I hear (or not) if people were acting in alignment with value?
How would this value be expressed in...our meetings, our decision-making process, how we deal with conflict, how we communicate, how we give feedback...and so on.
As you brainstorm with your colleagues, work together to identify the critical or high priority norms. These may be the easiest to implement, have the greatest return on investment, or be the most needed. Regardless of your criteria, the team should select no more than three to focus on at any given time. This will allow the team to embrace shared norms and measure adoption and impact.
INCORPORATE YOUR VALUES INTO YOUR ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEMS
In short, everywhere you talk about goals, talk about norms and values. When you elevate your team’s values alongside goals, you signal their importance.
Here are a few approaches teams find useful:
Share stories at your weekly team meeting or check-in. Ask people to share a story of when they noticed a colleague live a value or uphold a norm. Celebrate these successes even if they’re small. This not only brings the value or norm to the forefront, but does so in a way that honors the individual and generates positive reinforcement for everyone.
Add the values to your performance management and individual development systems. Whether you use a rating system or a reflection process, ask your team members to measure how well they lived the values and norms during the past period. Similarly, when creating development plans, include areas of growth around values in addition to the typical hard skills and competencies. For example, maybe someone needs to get better at speaking respectfully to their colleagues during debates.
Provide real-time praise and critical feedback. If you know a norm is particularly challenging for someone, be sure to acknowledge you’ve noticed their effort. When a team member behaves in conflict with an explicit norm or value, take it seriously. Speak with them about what happened and why they didn’t follow the agreed upon norm. Be open to the possibility they there may be external or systemic roadblocks that inhibit one’s ability or motivation to comply with a norm. If you don’t address poor behavior, you may not discover these roadblocks or identify opportunities for an individual’s growth.
EVOLVE YOUR WAYS OF WORKING TO REFLECT YOUR VALUES
Sometimes our systems are not set up to facilitate our new norms. In an ideal world, all the processes, ways of working, and reward systems would motivate and contribute to values adoption. As you focus on embedding a few norms each month or quarter, consider what might might need to be redesigned or updated.
Here are a few actions and examples from team’s I’ve worked with:
Add and/or remove a category to your company awards. To encourage people to take more risks, add an award for “greatest risk payoff” or “best out-of-the-box thinker.”
Use a new technology or app. To increase task and timeline transparency, begin using a shared collaboration platform.
Update or create new processes. To enable team members to go offline on vacation, create a ‘pre-out-of-the-office’ checklist to ensure everyone has what they need and knows who’s on point during the employee’s absence.
Try new meeting practices. To elevate strategic thinking and minimize group-think, add an ‘objections only’ time to your agenda in which everyone is expected to share counter arguments, unintended consequences, and other concerns, even if they don’t personally agree with them.
Before you overwhelm yourself and your team with dozens changes, consider which will have the most impact with the least effort or smallest changes. As you adopt the norms, you’ll likely discover over time what needs to change.
CULTURE CHANGE TAKES TIME
Values are the foundation of your team’s culture. When embracing new values and bringing them to life in your everyday experience, you’re really changing culture. This process always takes longer than we intend, more energy and focus that we desire, and more dedication than we realize. Yet, when you follow through on your values, you not only create a more positive work experience for your team members, you unleash their potential to reach new heights.
The mini-guide includes an overview of the 3 components to bringing your values to life. The full guide contains instructions for translating values into expressed behaviors, along with the overview and additional details. Get the mini-guide here or the full guide when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at mamieks.com/join. Or, purchase an individual guide at mamieks.com/store to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.
This article was based on episode 76 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.