When you walked into the lobbies of most organizations (pre-pandemic), you wouldn’t be surprised to see the company values proudly displayed on the wall. Most companies solidify corporate values, reinforce them in company communications, and find creative ways to celebrate how team members practice them day in and out.
Values are supposedly aligned with the unique corporate culture of an organization. Plus, it’s hard to argue with common values like “Integrity”, “Respect”, and “High Performance”. Some companies will even jazz it up to make these values more memorable with words like “Childlike Joy” (Gainsight) or “Be Brave” (one of ours), which often speak to moments in a company’s history.
But does outlining company values on the wall really make a difference in the day-to-day actions of our workforces? Are establishing defined values enough?
The Power of the Small Stuff
I was speaking with a fellow entrepreneur, Quinten Griffiths, and he made a compelling case on why we should define and encourage corporate habits instead of corporate values.
“On their own, values are hard to apply to decisions employees face on a day-to-day basis. Rather, leadership should focus on aligning day-to-day decision logic… focus more on what our employees do daily (their habits), instead of pushing what they should value (their values). A strong set of habits within an organization equips team members with tools they can use when facing difficult decisions.”
In other words, if we recognize actions speak louder than words, we can re-frame company “values” into tangible “habits” by breaking down values into small behaviours that are 1) easy to understand and 2) easy to apply to day-to-day decisions.
Here are some examples of traditional values expressed as habits:
Traditional Core Value
Example of Core Habit
Think of People First
The right way,
not the fast way
Another founder Diana Chapman sums it up:
“We are in an age where we are moving away from intellectual concepts and more into how you practice them daily. For instance, one core value everyone talks about is transparency. But often, you find out hardly anyone in the organization is practicing it. If transparency is a value, then you also have to define and practice habits that reflect it.”
For managers, reinforcing the right habits is not always easy. This week, a McKinsey & Company report on building better workplace relationships, touched on the challenges associated with creating good habits:
“…it is important for that manager to build their own system of cues, routines, and rewards to help consolidate these actions as habits. As long as the intent is authentic, bosses can simply imitate the new behaviors they intend as a path toward consolidating those actions into their daily routine.
However, in a hectic and demanding environment, it is not always easy to stick to good habits. It is even harder if good management is not valued or the model of leadership in an organization is primarily based on authority and personal achievement. In those circumstances, managers need their leaders to help.”
Perhaps the easiest quick win for reinforcing the right habits, is in how we select our next colleague by evolving how we recruit talent. Recruitment efforts would focus on identifying candidates who make decisions aligning with the company’s core habits, by asking questions focusing on why a decision was made by the candidate, rather than simply focusing on the results achieved (which will likely be communicated as positive results regardless in an interview).
“Purpose Inspires. Values Guide. Habits Define.” – Adam Fridman
Connecting to the Biggest Thing of All
On the flip side, some leaders cherish corporate values and they position them more broadly:
Founder Adam Fridman says,
“Purpose Inspires. Values Guide. Habits Define.” Purpose is about why we do what we do, values are how we achieve purpose, and habits are what we do every day reflecting our purpose and values. Habits are purpose and values made visible.”
Personally, if 2020 has taught me anything so far, it’s I should be spending more time reflecting. In times of big step-changes, it’s no surprise a big portion of our workforces are re-thinking personal and professional objectives. We’ve attracted some great new recruits who revealed after the fact, being in a purpose-driven company is one of the reasons they joined us. This genuinely warms my heart and is one of my motivations to put my best in every day. It also makes me wonder about the companies who find it difficult to communicate this purpose or are in sectors who have found it difficult to tell their story, historically.
Even in our own company, one whose purpose is to help people return safely to their families at the end of the workday, it can be difficult to connect some dots together when we’re deep in the weeds. How many lines of quality software code does it take to protect 100,000 people every day? The answer may inspire our software engineers but not our support professionals, for example. A customer of ours in the construction industry tells his team, “200 million passenger miles should be driven safely on this road in the next 10 years, so let’s do this right.” In any case, it’s up to leaders to find a way to connect the dots between the hard work our teams do every day and the clear purpose we articulate.
Bringing it Together
As a safety leader, I invite you to consider these three questions:
- 1. What is the purpose of your company or team? Does it inspire?
- 2. If you had to reinforce habits specifically, how would you define them?
- 3. What can you do differently tomorrow to reinforce these habits across your company or team?
I’d love for you to share your thoughts with me at Adrian.firstname.lastname@example.org
As always, stay safe,
Founder eCompliance & President, Alcumus North America