It has been said that we think with our heads but act with our hearts. Our spirit controls our conduct, shapes our attitudes and provides the basis for how we perceive our world. And our spirit is directed by core values. It is not a question of whether or not we have core values. We do! We need to ask; "What are those core values and are we aware of how they impact us?"
Organizations have a spirit as well. The spirit, and prevailing attitude, of the organization is reflected in its corporate culture. While referred to as corporate culture, this driving force exists in groups and teams of all sizes. Although they may not be openly expressed, core values are still in play. Even cliques have core values. If you doubt that, simply observe what happens to a member who fails to follow "the rules."
The culture of a team can be a positive force toward cooperation and success or contribute to conflict and hopelessness. Here’s the good news. We can determine what that culture will be and we can change it if we choose. The best way to establish a positive culture is by establishing, articulating and reinforcing a positive set of shared core values.
When properly established, the shared values of the team become an integral part of each individual's personal values. The leadership of an organization must take the time to discuss and determine what core values should be reflected in the organization’s culture. These values will focus on areas such as quality, ethics and character. It is important to describe the way employees should interact with each other and with customers.
The core values should be put in writing. Do not take the easy way out by picking a single general statement that, in its generality, fails to offer any real meaning. Keep the list fairly short, and each value simply stated. The core values need to be easy to remember. The list of core values should be distributed and discussed with every employee and all managers. This list should be brought out regularly at team meetings as a reminder of the organization’s highest aspirations.
As leaders, management should lead by example. The core values should be brought up and used as the basis for making decisions and resolving conflict. Leaders should discuss and communicate how their decisions and actions reflect, or fail to reflect, the core values. Core values should be the basis of discussion when addressing desired changes in behavior.
Core values can be emphasized through reward systems. Managers and employees can be evaluated and rewarded according to the degree to which their actions and behavior reflect the organization’s core values. I am particularly fond of programs that provide a mechanism for employees to recommend peers and managers for awards based on actions that exemplify the company’s core values. Frequent team meetings where awards are presented for demonstration of core values are particularly effective for reinforcing a positive culture.
Every culture has its own expectations for behavior. Those who wish to be a part of that culture behave accordingly. The most successful teams are those that first focus on “the heart of the matter.”