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Ensure corporate citizenship with values accountability

4 min read


In last month’s SmartBlog post on corporate culture, I outlined how high-performing, values-aligned organizations establish clear performance expectations as well as values expectations. Creating values expectations in the form of measurable, tangible, observable behaviors shifts values from desired attitudes to demonstrated behaviors.

Let’s talk a moment about others’ attitudes. Can a leader manage others’ attitudes? Not according to The Ken Blanchard Cos.’ research and experience. Just as with someone else’s motivation, attitudes are internally generated and maintained, within the person demonstrating the attitude (be it positive or negative). And, just as with motivation, great leaders create an environment where others’ desirable attitudes are acted upon. Lousy leaders create an entirely different environment that inspires toxic attitudes; we’ll focus on what great leaders do.

Great leaders create that “desired attitude”-inspiring environment by defining values in behavioral terms and holding everyone (leaders, managers, supervisors, and team members) accountable for demonstrating those values in every interaction, with bosses, peers, and customers.

Your organization may have some systems for desired citizenship in place today. These systems are typically in the form of civil and personnel law requirements. These expectations, though, are “don’t do” guidelines that steer staff behavior away from “bad citizenship.” For example, drug use in the workplace is against the law. Your organization has to monitor such behavior and react when leaders or employees demonstrate such behavior.

To experience consistent “great citizenship” from leaders and employees, senior leaders must make a formal declaration of “definitely do” guidelines and require demonstration of those desired behaviors. However, few organizations we have engaged with demonstrate the required discipline for proactive values accountability, which includes behaviorally defined values and regular feedback on observed behaviors.

Just as your organization monitors performance traction, gauging progress on goals day to day, it needs to create a similar means for assessing values traction in the workplace day to day. The single most effective tool to accomplish this is a custom values survey.

When starting the values survey process, it is important that the first run of the survey be focused on leaders. When leadership puts its behavior “under the microscope” first, the culture change initiative is seen as credible to front-line staff. The second and successive survey runs — done every six months — include all staff rating their leaders, their peers and themselves.

Once your organization publishes “definitely do” expectations in the form of behaviorally-defined values, the “content” of the values survey is virtually done! The items or questions the survey presents are derived from the valued behaviors already defined.

For example, if one of your valued behaviors for “personal integrity” is “I communicate honestly,” the survey question would read, “My direct boss communicates honestly with me at all times.” If another behavior from that value is “I follow the law and company policies,” two separate questions would be created (to ensure you’re measuring one thing at a time): “My direct boss follows the law” and “My direct boss follows all company policies.”

Each question is rated by respondent using a 1-to-6 scale: 1: strongly disagree; 2: disagree; 3: slightly disagree; 4: slightly agree; 5: agree; 6: strongly agree. Desired scores are at the 5 and 6 level, meaning this leader demonstrates these behaviors consistently. Note that the use of an even-numbered scale disallows respondents from picking the “midpoint” answer. A midpoint response doesn’t tell you anything about observed behaviors; by using an even-numbers scale, you force responses into degrees of disagreement (1, 2 and 3) or agreement (4, 5 and 6).

Survey administration is an important consideration. Most of our culture clients utilize an online solution to enable ease of data-gathering and analysis, especially with a twice-yearly cycle of survey administration. Effective survey solutions that clients have had success with include Snap and Cvent. Make survey administration a priority; allocate time and resources for this important feedback instrument in your organization’s culture initiative.

Each leader receives a values-survey profile that outlines their scores from their respondents (in this case, their direct reports; senior leaders also receive feedback from the broad population). The debrief should include validation of valued behaviors they are seen as demonstrating and coaching for valued behaviors they are not seen as demonstrating. Celebrate values alignment and redirect misalignment.

If leaders are not seen as demonstrating desired values, their continued employment must be quickly evaluated. You wouldn’t keep a leader who isn’t performing — so why keep a leader who isn’t a good citizen?

What is your experience with values accountability? Let us know in the comments section.