Can Demonstrating our Core Values Lead to a More Respectful Workplace?

Do you know your organization’s core values?

Can you rattle them off straight away (congratulations if you can), or do you have to pause and think back to the last time you saw your company’s annual report or strategic plan?

I ask because an organization’s core values mean everything.

After all, core values involve matters of principle and produce behaviors that provide a moral compass. Ethical standards, truthfulness, non-discrimination, fairness, and mutual respect are all values that any company should adhere to.

These values should never change and must never change. To have any meaning in this world, core values must be rock solid and steadfast.

Furthermore, they represent the operating manual for the engine of your company. And what “fuel” you use can differentiate you from others.

As I’ve noted before, creating a Respectful Workplace isn’t simply about not doing the things that we know are bad, such as:

  • Bullying and harassment
  • Deliberately not saying please and thank you
  • Using email when face-to-face communication is needed
  • Emailing or texting during meetings
  • Talking down to others
  • Spreading rumors and gossiping
  • Belittling others…

Assuming you don’t perform these disrespectful actions, what are you doing to help the workplace run smoothly?

Logically, respect is often shown by doing the very opposite of the bad behavior listed above. But simply not harassing or being a bully won’t quite cut it.

And that’s where the importance of core values comes in.

Why are Core Values so Important?

In 1994, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras published their book, Built to Last. Within its pages, the authors argue that many of the best companies adhere to a set of principles called, you guessed it, core values.

But let’s take a step back for a second and dissect the word itself.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, values are “principles or standards of behavior: one’s judgment of what is important in life.”

The publication of Built to Last motivated businesses everywhere to rush out and craft core values of their own. Today, just about every organization that you’ve heard of has a set of them.

Sounds great, right?

Not if they don’t mean anything.

If your organization’s core values happen to be Communication, Respect, Integrity, Professionalism, and Excellence, you should see them demonstrated every day at work.

We can’t just profess our values, we have to practice them, live in them.

This idea reminds me of Aristotle’s famous words, “We are what we repeatedly do.”

Does your organization repeatedly practice values like respect and integrity? If not, then their core values are meaningless, hollow, and simply a tick in the box of something that they figured they ought to have.

The Cost of De-valuing our Core Values

Empty core values are a big problem because they create cynical and dispirited employees, alienate customers, and undermine managerial credibility.

Why fill up your company’s fuel tank with something that’s harming it? Something’s bound to break down…

So, let’s move from your organization to you.

If someone walked right up to you and asked, “What are the five core values that define who you are?” you might find it a challenge to list them right there on the spot.

Values are deep inside us and they guide our everyday behavior. Remember, to have any meaning in this world, core values must be rock solid and steadfast.

After all, that list that you have now come up with might be really important to you, but how do you demonstrate them?

We are what we repeatedly do…

And so, I ask again: Do you know your organization’s core values?

Because if you can’t articulate what the organization where you work stands for, then there’s a problem.

I’m not asking you to tattoo them on your arm for easy reference, or to wake up each morning reciting them in the shower. But we should know the meaning of something designed to guide our everyday behaviours and decisions.

Just as we should know what our own personal core values are.

Brené Brown reminds us of just that in her wonderful new book, Dare to Lead.

We can’t live our values if we can’t name them,” she states.

She also speaks about an exercise where participants are asked to get their core values down to simply two.

In our leadership workshops, we ask our participants to select five.

Coat of Arms

Why five?

Well, a coat of arms (often a pictorial reference for a community or a family) is made up of five elements, representing what is most important. So, we ask our students to construct a personal Coat of Arms consisting of five core values – with the proviso that they must be demonstrated.

When you have selected the five – “The beliefs that are the most important and dear to you, that help you find your way in the dark, that fill you with a feeling of purpose,” as Ms. Brown states, read them – out loud.

As you read them, you should feel a deep resonance of self-identification. That’s when you know you’ve done it correctly. If what you feel (and hear) feels like a bit of sales pitch, go back and have another look.

I’m hoping this week’s post will help focus our attention on what matters most to us.

When we dive into the exercise with authenticity, what we usually discover is that our core values are very much connected to those around us.

But if we don’t think about them, if we pay them no mind, we can lose our way, our North Star obscured.

When that happens, the results can cause us to treat others in a way that conflicts with who we truly are…