The Holiday Gift of Workplace Values

2010 Update: I made the decision to bring Say “Alaka‘i” here to Talking Story in late May of 2010 when the Honolulu Advertiser, where the blog previously appeared, was merged with the Star Bulletin (Read more at Say “Alaka‘i” is Returning to the Mothership).

Therefore, the post appearing below is a copy of the one which had originally appeared there on December 23, 2008, so we will be able to reference it in the future when the original url it had been published on is no more…


The Holiday Gift of Workplace Values

Christmas morning will arrive less than two days from now. You didn’t buy a gift for your staff or your co-workers, and they didn’t expect you to; times are tough, and money is tight for everyone.

Still… you wish you could have.

Well, here’s some great news: Long after they’ve forgotten about some of those gaily wrapped packages they did get, you can have given them the gift they will remember the most and keep closest to them the whole year to come.

Managers and leaders can give everyone they know and care about the Gift of Workplace Values.

Have you taken inventory of your Value Asset lately?

I can’t think of any asset more underestimated in workplaces universally than those values a business was supposedly established on. Lists of company values are found in brochures, within employee handbooks and intranets, and at times they are in gilt frames on a wall; but how often are they lived? How often are they demonstrated and aspired to? How often do they come up in conversations, becoming the basis of your agreements? How often do they provide you with filters through which all your best decisions can be made?

Conversely, how often do you suspect your staff, customers, and business partners may be saying, “I thought they were about (insert value here), but sometimes I am not so sure” their actions are different, and not what you’d expect them to be.”

Value Alignment is the best gift found in any workplace

Here’s the big deal about values:

  • Values drive behavior.
  • Known values create expectations.

Think about some very basic ones we are likely to define in a pretty harmonious way: There’s love (Aloha), family (‘Ohana), hospitality (Ho‘okipa), caring (Mālama), responsibility (Kuleana) and learning (‘Ike loa) as some commonly held ones. If you know someone has one of those values, believing in them thoroughly and demonstrating their belief pretty consistently, you can guess, and guess with a great deal of accuracy, how that person will behave in certain circumstances which call on that value connection to kick in; their behavior becomes fairly predictable for you. You expect certain things from them if an issue crops up which turns that value into a physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual reaction; you know that reaction is intuitively instantaneous for them, and if you are right, whatever you had expected from them plays out like a movie you have seen before.

Now think about this more proactively: As a manager and leader, you will get the workplace behaviors you want most, by keeping the values you revere front and center at all times. You do so by talking about them often, and aligning them with work initiatives, with sales strategies, with hiring practices, with customer service goals —with everything. Values can be matched up with anything you wish to match a certain behavior to; you simply have to choose the right ones. The “right ones” are those which are about the vision you are aiming for.

This affects teamwork magnificently as well: You will best get things done through others by incorporating the values you share with them, values that embrace collaboration, and values that are fundamental good practices for your business or Sense of Place. Here in Hawai‘i for example, Aloha is believed to be the most universally held value of them all, but we assume too much about it: We don’t talk about it, and then agree on how we will live it each day together, staking our very reputation on its demonstration.

From the archives: What’s in the Aloha name?
—also includes a section on Sense of Place Responsibility.

To start, “Be the change you wish to see”

Here is what I propose you do: Grab a cup of coffee (or a cold beer if you prefer —but just one!), sit with a pen and blank page, and see if you can list your company values by heart.

Don’t bother looking them up, for if you have to look them up, they aren’t the right ones for you anyway: You have to believe in the company vision yourself before you can work on it! List the values you know are the values your company vision aspires to. List them by their shortest name first, and then go back and write a sentence or two which describes the way those values could best be lived and consistently worked on in your workplace.

Now consider this: What if you strung those sentences together as monthly themes for your calendar the whole year through?

Assign one value-descriptive sentence to each of the twelve months to come in 2009, and then make yourself a promise: What behavior will you work on each month, just one month at a time, which will bring your own actions into best alignment with that sentence you have just written down? Write those down, and you have a plan for 2009 far, far better than any other New Years resolution you could ever make.

By their very nature, the values we aspire to are inherently good. If you can get value-alignment to start with you, demonstrating your good-for-this workplace values consistently, and making those values habitual, they WILL become contagious, and others will follow suit —and eagerly so.

By this time next year, do you know what your staff will likely think? “I’ve got the best gift for the holidays I could ever have: A manager and leader who is the person he (or she) says she is. I want to be more like them too.”

Ho ho ho! Holiday giving can be so very great when it is truly meaningful!