”Values are soft.“ ''How and why would I bother?'“ “Not right now, we've got a crisis on our hands.“
These are just some of the responses that might pop up in a values conversation right now, but trust me, values are more important than ever.
Values can often be the most neglected part of our organisations when a crisis hits. There are so many practical things that need sorting and we just need to get on and do it. But, if you pause for thought, a time of crisis is the most important time to show our values . It shows they are real, important and ultimately they are the life raft that will help carry you into the world of the new normal.
So, first of all, I want to make the case for values in a world that is competing for your attention.
Values are the bedrock of your organisation. They are what everything else stands on. Messing about with your foundations during a time of difficulty will compromise the structural integrity of the entire organisation.
Values ground people when everything else feels up in the air. They are something that people can rely on and refer to.
Connecting with your own personal values, or the values of the organisation, offers you psychological safety.
Values are a constant in a world of change and as such, they offer people continuity and a sense of comfort. Knowing that your values are immutable helps people manage other changes more effectively.
Your stated values offer everyone a blueprint on how to behave and work in a novel and as yet, unwritten world. Where processes and procedures have not yet been codified and disseminated, your team can take initiative using the organisational values as inspiration.
At worst, working in a way that is contrary to your values will permanently damage your foundation of trust with staff. Trust is something that is hard earned, and losing it is a material cost to your business. Trust unlocks creativity, initiative, resilience, discretional effort and of course future sustainability.
With these in mind, what are the practical things that you can do in response to a challenging situation? Things which don't significantly compete with the necessary emergency measures, but compliments and reinforces them?
Ideas for the 'How?'
In my normal world, I do a lot of work with Pecan Partnership, international thought leaders in establishing culture and values as a foundation for delivering performance. In collaboration, we developed the following ideas that might offer some simple tips on bringing emphasis to your values during a period of busy change.
Make decisions through the lens of your established values and make it clear to others what you're doing. Being clear that you've referred to your values when making difficult decisions helps to demonstrate to others how important they are.
Revisit the foundational behaviours or ways of working behind each of the values. What needs to evolve in line with the changing scenario? Keep everyone up to speed with what and why and provide training if required.
Enable leaders with simple tools to help facilitate values and behaviours sessions. The key is to avoid high-level generalisations and drill down into specific, unambiguous behaviours.
Create the opportunities to move people out of the 'task' focussed working, into a more social space. Bringing your team together for TEAm ☕ Chats where everyone gets together for an online cuppa is a great way to reflect on the values of the organisation and how people can bring them to life during lock down.
Develop a clear comms strategy that integrates your values. In a world of change, our responsibility to communicate significantly amplifies. Whether it is including your values as a graphic on the broadcast or integrating it more comprehensively, the choice is yours. The important thing is to remind people they exist and be conscious to make decisions and behave in a way that is consistent with your stated values.
Celebrate achievements or behaviours that relate to your values. Positive reinforcement is a great way to embed learning. This could be as small as a little agenda item on a meeting or for the very adventurous, an online awards ceremony.
Update your intranet/screensavers/email signatures with your values. Having them front and centre during a period of change gives both continuity and a subconscious emphasis on their importance.
Values become most visible in those ‘moments of truth’ or ‘moral dilemmas’ when we choose to behave in one way or another. In a crisis these may be different moments than in a day-to-day; explore these dilemmas together and agree what living your values really looks like in each scenario.
As an organisation, if you don't currently have stated values, now, during Covid-19, is not the right time to establish them. When your team is in the right head space however, feel free to drop Pecan a line as I am sure they would be happy to help!