If a company’s values are supposed to be more than just cheerful posters around the office, then how exactly are they meant to be used? And to what end?
This is the thought going through every executive’s mind when we talk about a ‘values-led’ organization or a ‘purpose-driven’ company.
HR colleagues know that purpose and values are critical to understanding their company’s ‘why,’ but sometimes struggle with how to connect employees to values as a ‘how.’
Certainly, purpose and values can be woven into many aspects of the Talent and Organizational Design functions including performance management, rewards and recognition and job design. But there’s still a critical component missing – how to unlock and unleash ‘values as behaviors’ within a company.
How do we help employees to use these core elements of our organization’s ‘social contract’ to guide the way they perform their roles and relate to each other every day?
How do we use purpose and values to connect employees to the big picture and then empower them to effectively contribute to achieving the businesses’ goals?
Making values 'real' requires consistent communication.
Often I hear leaders say that they need to ‘communicate better,’ when what they mean is ‘broadcast more’ information to employees. Unless one of your values is ‘Command and Control,’ this kind of behavior modeling is unlikely to yield the desired results.
Companies powered by ‘knowledge workers’ require a more sophisticated and nuanced approach to connecting employees to purpose and values so that they can apply those principles to their roles and relationships in a meaningful way.
And the truth is, every company is powered by ‘knowledge workers.’ Not everyone is an engineer, programmer, or analyst, but employees in every business require context to make good decisions every day at work. Anyone working in construction or forestry knows that an employee’s ability to understand a situation and make very smart decisions quickly can mean the difference between life and death.
Purpose and values provide an excellent framework for creating this understanding, but how do we communicate effectively with so many different kinds of employees, in different industries, geographies, generations, tenures, capabilities and performing different functions and roles?
The power of strategic storytelling
Fortunately, there is a ‘silver bullet’ that comes in as many different shapes, sizes, colors and formats as there are contexts in need of a communication solution. It’s not an app or a new technology, in fact it’s been tried and tested since the dawn of civilization.
Storytelling is deeply ingrained in our human psyche as a means of understanding the world and then making decisions about how to navigate it – we’ve only fairly recently begun to understand the neuroscience that explains how organizations can truly harness this tool to translate values into behaviors that enable employees to powerfully contribute to achieving business goals.
When people listen to well-crafted stories scientists have discovered that their brains ‘light up’ as they follow the narrative. In fact, all subjects brains ‘light up’ in very consistent patterns. As they listen, hormones and neurotransmitters like dopamine, cortisol and oxytocin are produced – each has a specific role to play in connecting the listener to the story’s dramatic arc.
The story’s ability to stimulate the connection between empathy and oxytocin in the listener produces a particularly notable effect –at the end of hearing a story people with higher levels of oxytocin in the body are consistently more likely to take ‘pro-social’ actions, like donating money to charity.
The building blocks of behavior change
Think of these pro-social actions as the building blocks of behavior change. When our storytelling weaves in our company’s purpose and values, we can extrapolate that our employees will, over time, learn to demonstrate those values as behaviors.
The age-old leadership and management mystery of ‘how to get our employees to do what we want them to do’ has, in large part, been solved. And, the answer is the exact opposite of the top-heavy, hierarchical, command-and-control approach that has long been the norm. The research on creating a culture of purpose and psychological safety where leaders are vulnerable and human has been well documented.
Strategic storytelling actually changes brain chemistry – this is a powerful system of eliciting consistent desired behaviors from employees that is also respectful, empowering and gives your people an opportunity to innovate and co-create more effective solutions for your business.
Developing and implementing this strategic storytelling system – what I call Values IRL – creates a consistent, immersive, dynamic experience for employees that can help crack the code of core people challenges like recruitment, retention, productivity, performance, engagement and safety.
Values IRL is not a one-and-done exercise; it has to become like brushing your teeth. Fortunately, it’s an ideal complement to all the regular people processes, programs and campaigns that already exist within your company, including rewards and recognition, performance management, change programs, learning and development, and leadership communication.
This makes the opportunities for strategic storytelling nearly universal. No matter the size of your business, industry, or country, if you’re depending on your people to profit and grow then bringing your purpose and values to life – real life, every day, will be critical to your success.
Have questions about how you can bring Values IRL and strategic storytelling to your organization? Get in touch.
Every purpose-driven company knows that its ‘Why’ is important, but too many startups and small businesses miss the opportunity to accelerate their own growth by articulating not only the ‘Why,’ but the ‘How.’
For a young, or rapidly growing company, the need to articulate their Mission, Vision and Values is even more urgent. Taking a beat to think about your culture and values may seem like a luxury, but the most successful companies know that there are some very real reasons why this matters to their business.
In fact, those reasons are pretty compelling – like, for example, making more money, hiring (and keeping!) the best talent, etc.
But beneath that, there are actually two ‘best-kept-secret’ reasons why a CEO/Founder/Business Leader will want to get on this pronto.
1) Your life will be so much easier Your job as a leader becomes is simplified once you know, and can clearly explain to your growing team:
This, in essence, is what your Mission, Vision and Values are all about.
Once this is defined, it’s much easier to hire the right people, and let the wrong ones go. It’s also easier to manage your team because they understand the ‘big picture’ and your values serve as a sort of ‘social contract.’
With clear Mission, Vision and Values statements, everyone (including you!) has a built in decision-making framework. “Should I do it this task way, or that way? Hmmmm...we’ve got a value called ‘Customer First,’ so I think I’ll prioritize that piece of client work...” (See? Easier to manage!)
You will also make better decisions when it comes to designing and delivering your products and services. You, and everyone who works for you, will have a much clearer, more intuitive understanding of every aspect of your brand.
2) Articulating your Mission, Vision & Values is easier than you think
The truth is, almost every leader I’ve ever met actually already knows what their company is about, they know why they want people to come work every day, and they know what they want it to be like to work together.
It’s why they built the company in the first place, or why they felt compelled to take the helm. Leaders just don’t always have the language or bandwidth to be able to articulate them.
The good news, I’ve found, is that it doesn’t actually take much prompting to get a leadership team talking excitedly about why they’re passionate about their work, and how they envision the future of their company. It’s actually why they’re called, well, leaders.
Voila! Before and After
The difference between a company that has thought through, and articulated their Mission, Vision and Values, is a night and day from one that hasn’t.
Companies without this essential building block of culture suffer from an unmistakable sense of chaos, overwhelm and panic that inevitably seeps into their customer experience, hiring, work quality, and leadership. It’s a little like spinach in your teeth at a cocktail party; everyone can see it but you...
On the other hand, there is a sense of lightness, focus, confidence, and above all, clarity that shines through in leaders – and employees – who understand their ‘Why’ and their ‘How.’ It’s infectious, and helps a company attract and retain the best talent, innovate ahead of the competition, and build a business that’s truly set up for long-term success.
Where would you rather work?
Still feeling overwhelmed? Get in touch with us. Honestly, we help companies like yours with this all the time. Raring to go on your own? We love that about you! Grab our free Kick Start Guide to Creating your Mission, Vision & Values.
It’s easy to understand why business leaders get excited about creating a great culture – the benefits are huge!
Strong culture leads to great employee engagement. It's well documented that companies with better employee engagement enjoy oh-so-many dividends, including better productivity, innovation, customer experience, employee retention, profitability, safety and work quality.
Not to mention that it’s a lot easier to recruit top talent in a tight labor market when your team is shouting from the rooftops about how amazing it is to work for you.
However, culture isn’t a ‘once in a while’ thing, and it’s not like an adorable puppy you get for Christmas. Culture isn’t ‘cute when it’s new,’ and then just kind of a pain in the neck the rest of the year.
Why not? Ummmm, please see above list of upsides – those are 365-days-a-year kinds of benefits! And, like that cute puppy, if your feed and water it properly, your culture will grow big and strong over time. Give it some love, and your culture will become your very best friend as a leader.
Fortunately, there are lots of not-so-hard ways to nurture your culture. An easy place to start is with your Mission, Vision and Values statements – they’re kind of like your road map.
Tell the truth: Do your Mission, Vision and Values statements live in a drawer somewhere, and yet your wonder why they’re not ‘working?’ It’s ok. These things happen. It’s easy to get back on track.
Here are three top, easy and painless tips for using your Mission, Vision and Values to help you build and maintain an amazing culture.
Spoiler alert! None of them include ping pong tables and beer:
Over time, your people will understand that ‘this is the way we do things around here,’ which is a strong starting point for building the culture you want – and need – to grow.
There’s another big plus to consistently communicating your values; it actually makes your job as a leader easier. Just like the decision-making criteria described for employees, the same is true for you.
Just like your puppy doesn’t turn into a giant dog overnight, your values-driven culture also takes time to mature. The good news is, just like those daily trips to the dog park, the journey can be a whole lot of fun.
Interested in diving deeper into your company's Mission, Vision and Values with someone who knows the ropes? Drop us a line! Want to get started right away? Click here to receive a free Kick Start Guide to creating your own Mission, Vision and Values statements!
Season Four of the HBO comedy “Silicon Valley” has just begun, so it seemed fitting kickoff Dewpoint Communications’ inaugural blog post with a look at how leadership and workplace culture may be affecting the gang at Pied Piper, everyone’s favorite fictional startup.
Specifically, we wanted to examine the topic through the lens of one of the show’s most noteworthy characters, software engineer, Bertram Gilfoyle, aka, Gilfoyle. Fans of Silicon Valley will be very familiar with his ascerbic wit, however, even if you’re not familiar with the show, you’ll surely recognize some of the same personalities described in your own workplace.
Gilfoyle is happiest when he’s torturing his colleagues at tech startup, Pied Piper, and no one more so than his gullible counterpart, Dinesh. Gilfoyle’s unflinching, deadpan delivery keeps audiences in stitches as we watch his zingers land like bullseyes.
In one Season 3 episode, Gilfoyle delights in a colleague’s misfortune:
“Let me put this in terms you'll understand. I'm like a suicide bomber of humiliation. I'm happy to go out as long as I take you with me. Your shame is my paradise.”
Gilfoyle is, without a doubt, what Arianna Huffington would call a ‘ Brilliant Jerk’. So as much as we love Gilfoyle, the character, do we really love Gilfoyle, the colleague?
Remember the time that Dinesh finally got a love interest, only to have it flame out quickly? Gilfoyle was the first to kick him when he was down.
“Either she froze time, met and married the man of her dreams, unfroze time, and hopped back on to vid chat with you, or... you're the dogface. Which do you think it is? I'm on the fence.”
Much has been written about the importance of the ‘First 10 Hires’ in a startup. This core group, on board from the very earliest days of a company’s history, in many ways define its origin story.
Patrick Collision, co-founder of Stripe talks about the importance of those early employees in this How to Start a Startup lecture.
“The first ten people you hire, the decisions are so important [because you] aren’t just hiring those first ten people, you are actually hiring a hundred people because…each one of those people are going to bring along another ten people with them.”
This idea, that those first 10 hires are, in fact, creating the DNA of your company culture, is talked about a lot in the startup world, and there’s no better popular culture depiction of this universe than “Silicon Valley.” So, assuming we can put aside the fact that we’re actually talking about a television show, and that his character is critical to a range of other plot dynamics, the question must be asked, would you hire Gilfoyle?
On one hand, Gilfoyle exemplifies many of the qualities you want in an early employee; he’s brilliant, resourceful, playful, and surprisingly loyal.
On the other hand, Gilfoyle is also negative, combative, and actively creating the kind of toxic culture that Pied Piper could become when it grows up. As much as he rails against giant soulless corporations like Hooli, in fact, his cynicism and mean-spirited attitude towards his colleagues is actually sowing the seeds of the same corporate culture he rejects.
So what are some of the qualities you do want in those first 10 hires? What kind of person contributes to a high-performing team and a company that’s set up for success? How can you create a strong culture for your company from the start?
Ironically, the Silicon Valley character who most closely mirrors these qualities is Jared. While often the punchline for Pied Piper jokes because he seems so guileless, in fact, Jared Dunn is positive, professional, resourceful, scrupulous, loyal, constructive and relentlessly focused on the success of the company.
“I'll admit I'm sleep challenged. I just spent 4 days trapped in a steel box out in an oil rig full of robot forklifts. But now I'm back, and I am recovering, and I am focused, and we're going to pivot. Don't lose faith guys. Look at me, look at me. We've got a great name, we've got a great team, we've got a great logo, and we've got a great name. And now we just need an idea. Let's pivot. Let's pivot.”
Sure, sometimes Jared seems a little…sad. He’s more than a little odd, definitely psychologically damaged, sleeps on a cot in the garage, er, server room, and is always the butt of the team’s jokes.
“I mean, we're all cool here, but we know each other. So obviously, when Dinesh calls me retarded Frankenstein… or Gilfoyle refers to me as effeminate K.D.Lang, I know this is a joke among friends.”
But what would Jared be like if Gilfoyle wasn’t in the picture? What would any of the Pied Piper gang (except, let’s face it, Erlich) be like if they weren’t constantly shell-shocked by a barrage of negativity and insults? Maybe Richard could finally be the leader he’s trying to be. Maybe Dinesh would flourish and own his own genius. It definitely wouldn’t be a very good TV show, but it would almost certainly be a better company.
High performance cultures start with constructive, collaborative, highly engaged teams. It’s worth thinking about the kind of culture you want to create while you’re still huddled around someone’s dining room table like the Pied Piper gang. By the time you start scaling, the DNA of your company will already be embedded, and harder to change.
What do you think?
Have we got Gilfoyle all wrong?
How are you building a great culture in your company?
Victoria Dew is the Founder and CEO of Dewpoint Communications.