All month long we’ve been working through various leadership challenges – from retention to leading a multi-generational workforce. In today’s final post on leadership challenges, I’m addressing how leaders can live the values of their organization to create an engaged work culture.

The Workplace as a Social Ecosystem

In our engagement survey, we ask employees if the Senior Leadership team’s behavior is consistent with the mission and values of their organization. Why is this question so important to determining engagement levels in a company?

A workplace is a social ecosystem, and when people are in that system, they’re looking for predictability and consistency to feel safe. Values provide norms of behavior, which gives employees clear expectations about how behaviors should play out in their organization.

For example, one of our clients has a core value of stewardship. It’s an interesting core value, and it means employees are supposed to be good stewards of the organization’s resources. Employees might live out this core value by recycling, turning off lights, or trying to be a good steward of their colleagues’ time. But, if they see their manager or senior leadership wasting paper, time, or company resources on frivolous things, it creates a cognitive dissonance. They’ll begin to think, “Why am I trying to be a good steward at this micro level when my manager or department head is wasting things at a macro level?”

Using Values to Create Consistent Behaviors

Consistent behaviors create safety in an organization, and we use values to set parameters of those behaviors. Many organizations have a great list of core values, but managers don’t always act in a way that’s congruent with those values. They don’t always “walk the talk.” Are you – and other leaders – behaving in a way that is consistent with your values on the daily basis?

In organizations where leaders operate in a consistent and a predictable way that’s congruent with core values, people in that organization feel safer at a visceral level, allowing people to thrive and work at a higher capacity because they can count on others.

Anyone in a position of authority is auditioning for leadership. Transformational leaders don’t just lead projects and team, they set the example for everyone else. It’s more troubling to employees when a leader acts out of integrity than it might be for a colleague to do so, because with authority comes an expectation (and hope) that this is a person who will set the standard for the organization. When leaders fail to act in ways that are congruent with the company’s core values, it implies to us that they’re not going to hold others accountable to the standard if they’re not even holding themselves accountable to it. In this case, a leader is less likely to maintain the integrity of the whole team around these behavioral norms or expectations.

Start Somewhere – and Take a Small Step

Throughout this month we’ve talked about a few of the common leadership challenges we hear the most when we’re working with companies across the U.S.  Given the pace and complexity of work, focusing on your leadership skills might feel like another to-do list item, and perhaps even an overwhelming task. If this is true for you, start small! Take a manageable first step like asking one of your employees an engaging question to show that you care about them. Reach out to your engaged and actively engaged employees and ask how you can better support them, or take some self-reflection time on your behavior to make sure it’s consistent with your company’s values. Taking time up front to put engagement first will pay off in the long run through employee retention, a positive workplace culture, increased productivity, and ultimately, a better bottom line.  

Key Takeaways

  • Values provide important behavioral norms that create a work environment where employees feel safe to do their best work.
  • Review your company’s core values. Are you behaving in a way that’s consistent with those core values? Is your team?
  • Take small steps towards engagement with high-value interactions and getting your most engaged players on board to help you.
  • Looking for more? Schedule me to come lead a bootcamp and learn more tools for engagement.