Truth be told, the majority of employees in most companies could not articulate a consistent set of their company’s values. The reason is that they do not have an emotional connection to those values.
If you want your team to really understand and live by your company values, you have to go beyond publishing them and even beyond leading by example.
You need to help your team emotionally internalize those values. One of the best ways to do that is by telling real, poignant stories about real team members living company values and how that impacts others. Emotions drive behavior and memory.
Teaching Company Values: Honoring your team
Every year we give out our company Values Awards. It is probably my favorite 20 minutes of the year.
I ripped this idea off from Dave Calhoun, currently the CEO of Boeing. When I worked for him at Nielsen, Dave called them the Chairman’s Awards.
After the gala dinner at the annual offsite, Dave would select a small group of individuals to honor for their “above and beyond” contribution to the company over the past year. Sounds like big company manufactured corporate culture hoopla, right? That is how I felt the first time I attended that event. But it wasn’t. It was really moving.
Part of what made the awards so stirring was the way Dave presented them. He provided an extensive account of each person’s contributions from memory — no notes. The descriptions of the contributions or sacrifice were described thoroughly before the winner’s name was announced, adding a degree of suspense. And Dave let his own emotions show through whether they were visible tears, joy, humor, pain or sincere gratitude. That vulnerability and raw personal connection make a lasting imprint in the way little else can in a room full of 250 tired, overfed corporate types.
Besides the delivery, the stories themselves were often incredible and inspiring. People sacrificing or pushing themselves for the greater good of the company in its broadest conception, typically in extremely selfless ways. Many of the recipients were entirely unaware of their outsized contributions as they were making them.
After a couple years of exposure to Dave’s Chairman’s Awards, I began to consider the work I was doing for Nielsen in their context. Did I measure up? How could I measure up? Assuming I was not the only one reflecting in that way, it was clearly a secondary benefit of the awards that contributed to a positive corporate culture.
Of course, in a global company of 40,000 employees, there are bound to be a number of great stories every year, but not everyone takes the time to uncover them and celebrate them appropriately.
Today, my company has just a fraction of the employees Nielsen had at that time. Despite not having the breadth of material upon which to draw, I was determined to institute a version of Dave’s Chairman’s Awards at our first company kick-off I organized last year.
I call them the Values Awards. I solicit nominations from everyone in the company for teammates who went above and beyond in terms of demonstrating our values. This year was the second year of our Values Awards, and I was incredibly moved by all the nominations, some tidbits of which I just have to share.“X is supporting and empowering his team members to do the best possible job and I think that this causes a chain reaction, not only in the business part of one’s life, but life in general and overall self-confidence.”
“I think that not many employees in general are used to their boss asking them “What can I help you with today?”
“Only a couple of weeks after I started working at Onclusive with X, I had the thought: “Damn, I really want to work on my communication skills and become more like X one day.”
That stuff is priceless!
Onclusive’s Values: Empower our customers, empower our teams, empower ourselves, to improve communications.
In addition to the many other uplifting quotes submitted as part of the nominations, I was particularly proud that one-third of our employees were nominated at least once by someone else in the company. That is partially a reflection that we are not a large company and also reflects how much we count on each other in varied ways.
I thought the specific reward that Dave gave for his Chairman’s Awards was inspired as well … a USD10,000 donation to each winner’s charitable organization of choice. It encouraged an outward, community focused orientation and ensured another shot of recognition for the recipient from an additional organization that is meaningful to him or her.
In our case, I’ve chosen, for the time being, to have our reward be a sum of money that the Values Award winners must spend for themselves with any of our customers. For instance, they can buy genetic testing at 23&Me, a room with a view at AirBnB, a Tile to keep track of their keys, even tax preparation at H&R Block.
Recognizing contributions is management 101, but I’d encourage you to dig into your organization periodically for those truly inspiring stories and to make a big deal about them internally. At a minimum, it will be a tremendously uplifting experience for you and the recipients. Ideally, it will be an empowering and heartening way for your whole organization to embrace your values.