If you want to know what is really valued within an organization, the pragmatists will say you have to peek beyond the mission statement and look at things like who is getting promoted, who is getting raises, who is getting perks, who is getting choice assignments, and, of course, who is getting fired.
Tae Hea Hahm, the managing director of the venture capital firm Storm Ventures, says that "real culture" -- as opposed to "stated culture" -- is defined by " compensation, promotions and terminations. Basically, people seeing who succeeds and fails in the company defines culture. The people who succeed become role models for what valued in the organization, and that defines culture.
Because it's easier to reward the things we can easily measure, we often end up creating cultures that skew toward performance results over the values you typically see in a mission statement. Performance is vital to success and growth, but values are foundational to organizational health. So, the challenge for Extreme Leaders is to increase the real value of things that are critical but hard to measure.
How do we do that? Here are a few tips.
Clarify the values.
People tend to define values differently based on their personal experiences and expectations, so it's never enough to simply publish a list of things that are important to your leadership and your culture. Share your personal values as a leader and your organizational values, but make sure they are clearly defined for those around you.
This is a great topic for team discussions and often can lead to new or revised organizational values. For example, if sustainability is a company value, don't assume that everyone has the same definition of what that means.
Ask a simple question like, "What does sustainability mean to you?" Seek definitions and examples, and provide some of your own. Make sure people know what it means to live those values out. Remember, this is an ongoing process. New employees need to hear this message, and there will be times when you need to revisit the discussions.
Recognize values in action.
If your values are clearly defined and everyone knows what they look like in action, then you should be able to spot them when you see them. And when you see someone living them out, stop whatever you're doing and acknowledge it.
This should include formal call-outs during team or organizational meetings, as well as on-the-spot recognition. If you write a blog, consider using it to recognize employees who have demonstrated a shared value. Or mention it on social media or in the company newsletter. This not only honors the people who live out the value and encourages others to do so, but it reinforces the message of what the values mean and look like.
Reward the values champions.
It's not uncommon for people to lose their jobs because they failed to live up to an organization's stated values. An ethical lapse, especially if it involves something illegal, is a sure way to invite a pink slip. But how often do you give promotions or raises based on someone's integrity or honesty or selflessness or some other highly regarded value?
If someone only deserves a promotion because he or she knocked the numbers out of the park, then I would suggest they need mentoring more than they need a promotion. You want people who hit their numbers and do it the right way. When they do, reward them. And when you reward them, make sure everyone knows that the numbers were only part of the reason for the reward.