Most organizations have some type of corporate values document. But too often, those values are fun little blurbs that sound nice but lack the detail to direct employees’ daily performance.
Perhaps one of your core values is teamwork; does it sound something like, “We achieve more and build better when we collaborate and work together”? That’s a great overarching corporate value, but ask yourself honestly, does it truly help employees understand the specific behaviors they should exhibit on a daily basis?
It’s not your fault that there are lots of employees who don’t know how to implement your core value. Consultants have always told executives that values should be lofty and pithy. But what those consultants didn’t know was that people in the real world want clarity; they don’t want slogans, they want direction.
In the new Leadership IQ study, Why Company Values Are Falling Short, only 24% of organizations have detailed what specific behaviors are necessary to live their company values. But for the companies that have truly detailed those behaviors, their employee engagement is literally 107% higher than the companies that have not done that work.
As compelling as that sounds, however, it begs the question of how to detail those specific behaviors. Word Pictures is a technique whereby you paint a clear behavioral verbal picture that tells employees exactly what the behaviors accompanying a core value look like, broken down into three levels: “Needs Work,” “Good Work,” and “Great Work.” Those three levels teach employees exactly what behaviors they need to exhibit in order to live that value and what behaviors will violate that value.
Let’s take the teamwork corporate value. The typical boardroom version reads something like, “We achieve more and build better when we collaborate and work together.” But with the detailed behaviors specified in a Word Picture, that teamwork core value will now be much more detailed and could include the following specifics:
If you’re an employee, which is going to help you exhibit more teamwork: Being told that “We achieve more when we collaborate,” or having specific behaviors that you should and shouldn’t exhibit?
Imagine how quickly you could eliminate bad teamwork if you could teach employees that they shouldn’t pay more attention to their phones than to their colleagues, or that they shouldn’t say things like, “You guys can decide, I don’t care.”
And consider how much faster you could coach people on teamwork by teaching them that they should seek ways to show respect for others’ viewpoints, perhaps saying, “Let’s work together to come up with a solution,” or “Would you be willing to share with me privately?”
Parenthetically, if you’ve ever considered embedding your values into performance reviews, it is exponentially easier once you’ve detailed specific behaviors ala a Word Picture.
How you define the specific behaviors is up to you, as long as they help employees understand the nitty-gritty behaviors necessary to live the core value of teamwork (or anything else). One of the tests as to whether you’ve adequately defined your core values with a Word Picture is whether you could quickly grade your own behavior.
I’m quite sure that everyone can read the Needs Work description and think of a few instances where we’ve exhibited undesirable behaviors. Relatedly, I’m sure that everyone reading this article can also find instances where you demonstrated Great Work behaviors.
If you can dissect your corporate values into specific behaviors that every employee can use to govern their daily actions, you’ve positioned yourself to achieve 107% higher employee engagement. It’s incredibly painful for employees to spend hours guessing what teamwork or integrity or accountability means. But if you can turn those corporate values into specific behaviors, you will have achieved a level of transparency and candor that nearly all employees crave.
This article was originally published in Forbes.