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Basic human values that empower high-performance workplaces

4 min read


Although business leaders try to boost performance by enforcing rules, their efforts lead, ironically, to disengagement and apathy, and an estimated 70% of employees in the United States remain miserable in their jobs.

The issue lies in employee morale. To create an inspired, high-performing workforce, leaders should promote five basic human values: positive assumptions, trust, inclusion, challenge, and recognition.

By making these into core company values, leaders can motivate employees to do their best work and to spread positive energy. Incorporate each value into your daily operations in the following ways:

1. Positive assumptions

Leaders who have built highly successful teams share many high-performance attributes. One is so subtle and uncomplicated that it’s often overlooked: cultivating positive beliefs about people.

Assumptions about people — positive or negative — drive your behavior, which, in turn, drives their behaviors. It’s difficult to embody the other values on the list without adopting this foundational principle. Embracing positive assumptions creates a high-trust environment in which employees know you don’t think they’re lazy or lacking in good ideas. This value, which goes hand-in-hand with trust, helps you avoid micromanaging to the point that employees become disengaged.

2. Trust

Trust allows employees to express their true opinions. 95% of employees want to work hard to achieve business goals and to reach their own professional aspirations. However, company policies often wrongly focus on the other 5%, and that lack of trust leads to micromanaging.

For Didion Milling, a family-owned agricultural processing business, a high-trust workplace has been good for business. Distribution manager John Weaver puts it this way, “Our operators are quicker to come forward when they have an issue or a problem. They have more trust in the leadership as to how we’re going react, so there’s more open communication.”

3. Inclusion

Inclusion breeds commitment, and commitment breeds success. Inclusion means requesting and really listening to employees’ perspectives when solving problems or making decisions that affect them. For example, consider including your team in the hiring process.

Using a hiring team approach capitalizes on your best assets — your front-line employees — to identify and select the highest-caliber workers. Because your employees want to be part of a winning team and hold high expectations for their peers, they’re uniquely qualified for this trusted role.

4. Challenge

Challenging employees by setting the bar high encourages them to meet superior standards and maximizes performance, especially when you truly believe they are capable.

I recently spoke about expectations with the leader of a large manufacturing plant who referred to his department’s job descriptions as “standard work definitions.” Unfortunately, when leaders define performance in terms of least acceptability, it drives a trend toward mediocrity, even for excellent employees. A challenging job description elevates expectations and indicates that the company supports employees in reaching their potentials.

5. Recognition

Acknowledging positive behavior immediately affects morale and costs nothing, so why not make time to provide that feedback? Employers often recognize big accomplishments like $1 million sales, but they should also note smaller actions, such as reaching out and bringing teams together, that lead to success.

I’ve worked with some companies that set very high expectations but avoid positive recognition of progress because they’re concerned that encourages workers to stop pushing as hard toward achievement. This attitude, backed by negative assumptions, couldn’t be more wrong.

Because each value is connected, leaders can’t cherry-pick which to promote. Companies can’t challenge employees they don’t trust, and they can’t foster inclusion while harboring negative assumptions. But if leaders integrate all these basic human values into their companies, they will lay the foundations for high-performance workplaces.

Sue Bingham, founder and principal of HPWP Consulting, has been at the forefront of the positive business movement for 30 years. She’s driven to create high-performing workplaces by partnering with courageous leaders who value the contributions of team members.

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