Employees who know and understand their company’s core values are 51 times more likely to be engaged fully in their work than those who don’t.
That’s an impressive stat that leaders can’t afford to ignore. Your company’s culture is often what sets you apart from the competition, so communicating and helping your employees embody your core values is vital to the success of your business — especially when those values appear to contradict each other.
On the surface, my company’s core values seem to jibe well, and they often do. Two of our most cherished values are “Be cool” and “Get sh*t done.” But sometimes, when we are on a tight timeline or with a difficult client, it can be a challenge to also be cool. The key is to find balance when things go off the rails and your core values seem to fall out of whack with reality — and with each other.
Living core values when things get complicated
What do you do in a situation that seems to pit two core values against each other? In our experience, we’ve always been able to find the overlap and successfully ride that cusp.
Our values are extensions of transparency (being cool) and execution (getting sh*t done). We avoid being jerks while getting things done by communicating honestly and openly with co-workers, managers, and clients. Even in difficult situations, it is possible to do both at the same time. When push comes to shove, here are a few principles that help guide the way.
Personify core values
Eighty-five percent of employees look to the CEO and other executives to see their company’s core values in action. As a leader, your behavior should always epitomize your company’s values so that employees know exactly what they look like in conjunction with each other.
My partner and I take that responsibility seriously. We work hard to “be cool” and “get sh*t done” by treating our teams, clients, and partners well, remaining adaptable, and working proficiently under pressure while maintaining composure.
You can’t just print your values out in a fancy brochure and expect employees to understand what they mean. Enron tried that, and even carved its core values of respect, excellence, communication, and integrity in marble at its Houston headquarters. As we now know, Enron executives’ daily behavior hardly personified those values, and the company’s epic demise was a direct consequence of this major disconnect.
Embrace different manifestations
As important as it is to be a strong role model, know that people will exemplify your core values in different ways, and make that clear to all. Don’t narrow the focus so much that everyone strives to be your clone. At Dropbox, for example, leaders trust their teams to follow the company’s stated core values by saying, essentially, “You’re smart; figure it out.”
Company culture develops organically. We devised our core values by reflecting on things we found ourselves saying time and again in meetings. Eventually, they became cornerstones of our business. For us, “being cool” doesn’t mean telling jokes or wearing stylish clothes; it means staying calm and collected under pressure, handling tough deadlines with precision and grace. And there are many ways to achieve this kind of Zen mindset.
Of course, culture also evolves on daily. You can’t just repeat your core values a couple of times in a PowerPoint presentation and expect people to truly “get” them. It takes time, reflection, intentionality, and constant reiteration to balance and counterbalance all of them and demonstrate for others how they can do the same.
Tony Delmercado is the COO at Hawke Media, co-founder and chief operating officer at Hawke Media and a passionately curious entrepreneur. He has earned recognition and praise in publications like Entrepreneur, Forbes, Business Insider, Inc. and more. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.
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