From mega-corporations to small startups, every organization has its own core values. Whether these values remain unspoken or are featured prominently in a campaign, they determine company culture, which can ultimately make or break your business. Unfortunately, for many organizations, core values are nothing more than a few nice-sounding words stuffed into an employee handbook that new hires read during their onboarding but never see or think about again.
When this happens, you might find the behaviors of your individual team members to be at odds with one another, and you’ll spend a tremendous amount of time trying to build buy-in for goals and strategies, which can be an enormous task. Perhaps you’re experiencing breakdowns in communication, or your operations are siloed, or maybe your team is just generally struggling to work together. This is a difficult situation to be in, but there’s no need to panic.
I’ve written before about how leaders need to do a certain amount of work themselves even if they’re going to hire a third party to lead their team in a workshop. Similarly, no one is going to be able to deliver a team that’s completely in sync with one another on a platter. Leaders need to put in the work if they want to develop and sustain values-based alignment within their organization. Let’s dig in.
What is Values-Based Alignment?
Defining “values-based alignment” is pretty simple. When your entire team understands and applies the organization’s core values as they collaborate with one another, you’ve achieved values-based alignment. Putting it into practice, however, is more complicated.
Before you can begin working toward values-based alignment, you first need to specify what your organization’s mission is and decide what values support that mission. Doing so will essentially clarify why these values exist in the first place, increasing the likelihood that your team will buy in and adopt these values as their own—at least while they’re on the clock. Some examples of core values include integrity, accountability, collaboration, and compassion. Carve out some time and explore what core values align with your business’s mission if you haven’t already.
While establishing your core values is an important step, you’ve still got a bit of work left to do to reach values-based alignment. As a leadership development consultant, I’ve found there are generally three actions leaders can take to help move the needle.
Focus on Consistent Application of Values
In my experience, most companies tend to fall into one of two categories: they’re either problem-focused or outcome-focused when they run into challenges. I find both of these perspectives to be lacking and instead encourage my clients to focus on the consistent application of values, not just problems or outcomes. How you get to a solution matters just as much as the solution itself. The how is where the purpose of having values becomes clearest.
For example, are you willing to pursue profitability by any means necessary? I once had a client who was forced to discuss this very issue. A high-value customer made a request that would violate an employee’s rights (the customer didn’t want an LGBT+ person working on their account). Believe it or not, it wasn’t a black-and-white decision, especially since there was a good chance that the employee might never find out why they were removed from the account. If my client accommodated their customer, they would’ve been meeting their profit value; however, they would’ve been sacrificing their inclusion value.
Notwithstanding the legal issues this presents, the leaders were split on how to prioritize profit relative to its other values. Now, as the organization considers layoffs and other belt-tightening measures in the face of a potential economic slowdown, how they prioritize profit will impact the manner in which they make hard choices, and the ramifications are broader than inclusion. Values aren’t just about DEI.
Focus on addressing any contradictions between your values, your policy decisions, and your organization’s actions. Then, focus on clearly explaining the gap and how whatever solution/rationale you choose addresses it. Then, communicate this over and over (and over) again. Values-based alignment is about clarity and repetition so that people hear your values, understand them, and use them to guide their behavior.
Be Part of the Process
Just in case this isn’t abundantly clear: you’ll need to be a part of this entire process—from establishing core values to aligning those values with your organization’s goals to modeling those values every day. This is not something you can delegate. You can absolutely bring in support—either internal or external—but you will not be able to outsource this work completely.
Being part of the process might mean you uncover difficult truths about your organization or even yourself, and that’s OK. Part of discovering how to apply core values to your organization is holding up a mirror to any gaps or pain points, acknowledging them and then working toward a solution.
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Values-Based Alignment is a Journey
Not every problem will be solved overnight, nor should it. It will take time, effort, and collective participation to get everyone in sync. Even once you get there, the work still won’t be over because values-based alignment isn’t a destination; it’s something you’ll perpetually work toward, but don’t let that discourage you.
Your business is constantly evolving and being in values-based alignment will position you to meet the growing needs and expectations of your employees, partnerships, and customer base. Not only that but navigating new challenges shouldn’t be nearly as daunting when your entire team is operating from the same playbook.