Among other things great and small, this week I set about writing a short guide for the Leaders who I work with. Many I have known for years, whereas some are new to Centre for Leadership Advantage. My thinking was that I would pull together a compendium of tips and suggestions that might provide some assistance in navigating current organisational challenges in this ‘business unusual’ world. My first thoughts were that my suggestions ought at least to include behavioural science based prescriptions for Chief Executives, Departments Heads, and Front line leaders. You might be guessing the types of things that went to the top of my list; the importance of communication, the requirement to frame messages that inspire, to provide meaning for people and how to get them to connect. A good list and, one that if able to be applied, might just assist in shifting the resilience and well-being flywheel in the right direction for their company, Government Department or NFP.
However, by Tuesday a friend stopped me in my tracks by asking about the one thing she might do to support her people? I surprised myself by the speed of my answer and even with the benefit of reflection, my answer remains the same… “Go back to your values”.
Remember them? They were the ones you workshopped all those years ago. The ones you etched in gold and strategically placed on HQ walls. You know them by heart, the ones your CEO expected everyone from the C-Suite down to be able to recite, word perfect.
What were they again? Respect for others, Trust, Fearless Innovation and of course, it is all about the Customer. If, like most businesses, you probably have a list of about 12.
So here is the rub… they can now become your people’s lifeline, your guide to the advice you offer and the direction that you want to cascade throughout your organisation.
Let’s start with an obvious one, TRUST. What did you say about it at the time and, how did your values workshop facilitator help you define it? Did you say that for trust to be an organisational value it had to be absolute? Did you say it was going to be non-negotiable? Trust is a funny thing when you pull this organisational value apart and the doing so can provide some really important insights about yourself and your leadership team. How much information can, or ought you share with your team in a situation of existential crisis? How can you best frame your messages so that they can be seen as coming from a position of trust? When does the corporate suit come off and your authentic cloth in all its imperfection go on? I can’t prescribe how you should apply the trust structure but what I would suggest is that you go back and see what you said then. Only after doing this can you apply the long held definition of an organisational value, ‘the way we do things around here’ making sure that decisions made, policies written and messages communicated are done through a trust lens. You might enlist others in this by asking for feedback from colleagues. Not just the people that always say “yes” but the ones who love and respect your company enough to give you the brutal facts.
You might even want to ask yourself and your leadership team the following trust questions:
- How often do I try to protect others by keeping information to myself?
- How often do I keep special information to myself so I can feel in-the-know?
- How often do I make decisions without sharing how or why I arrived at my conclusion?
- How active is the rumour mill among the people I work with? How often is it accurate?
- To what extent am I concerned that others can’t be trusted to handle sensitive information responsibly?
Like trust, the organisational value RESPECT FOR OTHERS will most likely feature in your top three or four values. Again, try to remember what you said about it then. I’m guessing it was something along the lines “respect for others in each and every action we take and the way we go about our day to day business”.
In 2008 Brian Cook, CEO publicly shared the core values of the Geelong Football Club. At that time the Cat’s were flying high having just won the AFL Championship in the preceding year and were about to embark on an era of Club greatness. For Brian, the Club’s values were everything and in response to the question, “what are we passionate about?”, his answer was unequivocal – “our values”. This week after what he might possibly regard as one of the toughest weeks in his professional life, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if Brian Cook revisited the values laid down then which commenced with the requirement for respect, “for our Club, partners, communities and each other”. Tough decisions will be made at the Geelong Football Club in the weeks ahead. Relationships will likely be tested and some hearts broken but Cook, as always, will revert to the core values laid down and use them as a critical guide.
To start your own thinking about the value of respect within your own company, department or team, check back on what you said then, test it against the decisions that you make now, and the language that you’re using. In a time of significant pressure, you might also try and identify the circumstances in which you may become prone to treat others without respect. Is it when you are tired, stressed or have a pressured deadline to meet? Is the derailment of respect prone to be directed at those who are closest to you?
There are of course many values that can be collectively reviewed but let’s conclude with one final value that frequently makes the Top Three; Customer First. If the way you do things at your place has a guiding principle of “customer first”, where does that sit with you today? Are you still to be relied upon to be the trusted advisor? Are the close vendor/supplier relationships that you virtuously extolled in your Town Hall meetings able to withstand the test of the current predicament? Here again, hard decisions will without a doubt have to be made, contracts re-negotiated and “go/no-go” decisions made without fear or equivocation. Across the country, Landlord/tenant dilemma’s will be a hot topic this week. My advice cannot resolve these issues other than suggesting that the application of great emotional intelligence (EQ) will undoubtedly be required. Remember the things you learnt in People and Relationship Management 101; try empathy over bloody mindedness and never forget at the end of the day, kindness can be a great tactic for unlocking an intractable situation.
At Centre for Leadership Advantage, we also have our core values. They guide the way we work and the things we do. Each of our CLA values has been at the top of my mind since my lightbulb conversation with my friend and one stands out in particular, “Practical solutions that make a difference.”
As a leader, if you would like to talk with and get some trusted advice from professionals in the leadership arena please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You will survive but the real payoff will come when you use the current predicament to thrive.