Using Values to drive Employee Engagement and behaviour…
Some of us may well have distant (albeit un-fond) memories of the management style of the ’70s and ’80s and how it was based around “Command-and-Control”.
Culturally, bosses of yesteryear would often “always know best”. Many would be guilty of imposing a rather rigid management style and often create an almost military-like environment for their workforce to achieve their own strategies.
Thankfully things are somewhat different nowadays.
When coaching businesses, it’s useful to talk about the difference between “transactional” and “transformational” and to best illustrate it, here’s a Roberts Dilts model:
The bottom 3 layers are what are called “Transactional” layers. The top 3 “Transformational”. Alan Williams and Steve Payne describe the difference clearly in their book entitled “My 31 Practices”…
“…you will notice that the bottom three levels feel more transactional. This means that they are tangible; where you are, what you do, and what abilities you have. Changes made in these areas are more likely to be carried out consciously. The top three levels are more transformational; values, beliefs, sense of identity and purpose. They operate at a more subconscious level. These higher levels have a great impact on the lower levels, for example, your values drive your behaviour. If being compassionate to others is important to you (value), then you may find yourself automatically giving up your seat on a bus (behaviour) to someone who you believe needs more than you.”
So how does this translate into business and employee engagement?
By focussing on the top 3 layers, you are largely working at the unconscious level. And this is where the ‘magic‘ can happen.
Being aware of the true meaning of your company’s corporate values, (as well as living them), is one of the most powerful ways you can influence and align the behaviours of your team in pursuance of a common goal.
The key words here, I believe, are “meaning” and “living”.
First of all, what do corporate values really mean?
And by “living”, a good question to ask is whether your company is bringing to life the values both physically (through actions) as well as emotionally.
Values are, after all, mere labels to begin with. Labels without meaning until you give them meaning. Unless you see your employees living and breathing them, you (and they) have no frame of reference as to what they represent.
John Kotter in his book “The Heart of Change” suggests that behavioural change does not come about by people analysing and thinking about things. When people see, (and if what they see then makes them feel something different), then change comes about…. and furthermore it’s a natural process, i.e. there is little in the way of forced behavioural change.
See > feel > change as he suggests.
Change very often brings benefits with it, but people don’t tend to like change. So by seeing the benefits it means that people don’t have to think, they don’t have to process what change might look like. They physically see it. The benefits are explicit, not implicit. Then, if what they see makes them feel something, there is an emotional link……and emotions provide the fuel that drives our behaviour.
Whilst his brilliant book focusses on change, the same principles apply to values, and how to give values meaning. Turning your values from implicit into explicit is vital. Turning them from “labels” into “visible action” is what will make an impact. Then capturing this (on video, at face-to-face meetings or through a newsletter) provides your staff with the ability to see it.
Think about your own corporate values for a moment.
Are they mere labels or do you and your employees act them out naturally and automatically each-and-every single day? Can you see your values brought to life in the natural behaviour of your staff or is the behaviour of your employees a sign of compliance to the values?
Often those sales people who excel have personal values that are very similar to the values of their company. Therefore, the corporate values resonate with them. The source of our authentic behaviour lies in our personal values, so if we do have corporate values that resonate with us, we have alignment….and life is good.
Let’s use a purely fictitious example to illustrate what I mean.
Take a salesperson, Sarah. Let’s assume that the product Sarah sells is a big-ticket item. One that needs a heavy dose of relationship-building / integrity / trust to be formed over time before the sale. The company values are based around, for example, passion / entrepreneurship / collaboration / partnership. Sarah feels that her own personal values, and what’s generally important to her in life, are similar to those of the business. She’s performing well and, again, life is good.
Then, a new Managing Director is appointed. Their particular management style is all about mechanically closing deals. Getting numbers generated. Time is an issue. There is a need to get sales targets up and profits higher. The corporate values are changed without consulting the sales force as to how they feel. The new values are all about having guts / single-mindedness / resilience / drive. These values resonate with the new MD, but not with Sarah and her colleagues.
Changes begin to be seen in behaviour…..and importantly the workforce start seeing their peers behave in a different way.
Next, a new set of corporate-behaviours is created to “influence and inspire” the sales team. Again without consulting with them.
The new behaviours focus on more sales calls per day. Less time in each call. Higher sales value per call…….
What happens next?
The new values and behaviours don’t inspire, nor do they resonate with Sarah and her colleagues. In fact they prove to be a source of irritation. A target. Even the language used is not comfortable for the sales force to hear.
Productivity goes down. People leave. Sarah and the other talent start walking out the door. Replacement costs and lost sales start to increase.
OK, so this example all sounds doom-and-gloom but how often do we still see elements of it happening in some parts of modern business?
So, the importance of having corporate values that resonate with your employees is vital.
Perhaps I can pose a question. When was the last time you took the time to sit down with your teams and asked them individually how each one of them felt? Generally, do you encourage an open and constructive team feedback environment? Are people rewarded for being honest, innovative and respectful of others in the team? Do you ever ask what the corporate values mean to them at a personal level?
Do you know what is important to each person that you manage? If you don’t know, how can you tailor your leadership style to encourage these conversations?
All of this stuff works but….in reality…..how often do we still see the “command-and-control” management style prevail in many parts of the business world?
….Possibly more worryingly, what cost is incurred when the best people walk out the door and into the arms of a competitor? A competitor who truly and authentically lives out their corporate values; values that are seen in the natural behaviour of the employees at every level of the organisation?
I’d like to leave you with an alternative option to consider… how might appraising your staff solely on how they ‘live’ and demonstrate your company values make a difference to your workforce’s connection with your business?