Leadership & Management

How to Lead Better in 2021 by Focusing on Values

By John Estafanous

ceo & founder, RallyBright

November 24, 2020

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I spend my days (and to be honest, many of my nights) thinking about what the teams that RallyBright supports need in order to perform at their best. What have I noticed most, these past few months, from my front-line view of how hundreds of teams are doing? What does it reveal about what leaders can do to lead better in 2021?

One of the strongest trends I’ve seen is that teams with a strong sense of purpose and clear values are not only surviving, but thriving.  We often say that “Direction” – or having a shared vision, purpose and core set of behaviors – is the most important dimension to team resilience. What we’re seeing now reinforces this. We’ve seen this anecdotally with several customers whose executive management teams have made it clear that their values are integral to their success. In these cases, team resilience and engagement scores have risen across the board as these teams successfully weather the ongoing disruption with consistent financial performance. In some cases, teams are pivoting, shifting and achieving significant growth while hitting their stretch goals or milestones. 

A Return to Values

The winners have been companies prioritizing behaviors that tie to their values and a focus on human connection. In a recent newsletter HR thought leader Josh Bersin wrote about the “social transformation” that’s come about because of the pandemic. “In a time of great hardship, it’s been remarkable to see people choosing empathy again and again,” he wrote.  “Every call starts by checking in, and we forgive the spillover of home life into work. We’ve identified ‘taking care of employees’ families’ as one of the ‘ten keys to transformation” in HR.”

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Recent research shows that most companies have not focused on values enough to make a difference to their people. This spring, a Gallup survey found that only 27 percent of U.S. employees believe in their organization’s values; and only 23 percent say they can apply their organization’s values to their work every day. 

If you’re one of those leaders who have neglected taking action on values, here are three ways to elevate values to lead better in 2021. 

Communicate what you stand for as a company, and do so frequently

Make sure you are talking about your company purpose and values regularly during team and all-company meetings. Additionally, incorporate values-related questions into your pulse and engagement surveys, as well as into performance reviews. 

If you sense your team is unclear on its purpose, invite its members to define it together. It’s hard to believe, but many teams never take a step back to define what they are doing together. Doing so can lead to huge gains in alignment and motivation.  

What if you don’t have formal company values? Where do you start? We love what the founder of our customer data.world, Brett Hurt, did: he asked each of data.world’s employees what values they bring to work every day. (You can read Brett’s insightful reflections on this exercise here.) Your people are the most powerful representations of your company culture; pull from their best contributions to your workplace.  

Translate your company values into observable behaviors

Values inform a culture, but culture is seen and felt through observable behaviors. What’s more, teams and their leaders can measure and track observable behaviors to get assurance they’re living their values. 

When thinking about values-informed behaviors you’d like to foster, think about the behaviors that really define your company. What are the top five behaviors you would like exhibited by everyone in your organization, regardless of their role?

These behaviors become what your customers know you by. Probably everyone who has ever taken a Southwest flight can tell that Fun is one of the airlines’ company values. The flight crews show this in much of what they do. Whether singing the safety instructions, cracking jokes, or giving prizes to customers with the biggest holes in their socks, their behaviors make people laugh (i.e. have fun).  

Let me repeat one of the Gallup stats referenced above: Only 23 percent of U.S. employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization’s values to their work every day. This means that there are huge gains on offer for companies that make their values actionable through behaviors. 

Systematically recognize and reward values-based behaviors

Once you’ve defined the values and behaviors that unite your company, put in place a system to reinforce them.

Make recognition and appreciation the norm on your team. In the prevailing remote conditions, this means we all have to be more deliberate. Recognize the work your team members are doing on your team calls, and be specific in your kudos. Consider using employee recognition tools like Disco (which we use and love here at RallyBright), Fond, Bonusly, or others that help systematize reward and recognition and also give employees easy ways to recognize one another. The more processes and tools you put in place to support a culture of gratitude, the more freely appreciation will flow throughout your organization. 

With the significant cultural shifts we’ve seen in 2020, I think building strong corporate values and cohesive company cultures will continue to be top of mind in 2021 for ambitious leaders. 

On that note, I’d love to show you how RallyBright can help you build and reinforce a values-centered culture. Shoot me a line at john@rallybright.com and let’s build better teams and stronger cultures together in 2021! 

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