I recently realized that I often mention the importance of shared work values in a team, but I have not taken the time to expand on why I think it is crucial to have defined and explicit values at work. I hope this post will help show you why you should think and talk about your and your team’s values.
Values are the principles that underline our behaviors and choices. They denote the things we find important and help us distinguish between good and bad. Values form the foundation of everything we do at work. Yet apart from the new hire orientations and some CEO motivational speeches, we practically never talk about them. And rarely think about them either.
I firmly believe that defining the core workplace values for our teams and ourselves has numerous benefits. Moreover, once defined, those values should be explicitly discussed, announced and linked to everything we do in our jobs.
And here is why.
What’s in it for you as a manager?
I will start with the benefits explicit team values have for managers, mainly because this topic became relevant to me first as a manager.
I became a people manager rather abruptly and in quite unfavorable circumstances. To top it all off, I was not really ready for the role. I like to think that I lived up to it eventually, but it was tough in the very beginning.
I had a team of individuals with diverse talents but also very different and not entirely compatible personalities. I needed something to help me unite them and bring some cohesion. And the first thing that came to mind was to create some values that we could share (I called them principles back then. Only later did I realize those were actually values).
I found a few things that were important for all of us. We started talking about them and how the things we did aligned with them. This helped us create shared goals and prioritize our projects and tasks. And all of a sudden, it was all working.
In fact, it worked so well that when, in an attempt to erase any sign of my presence, my successor went after the team values, the team soon fell apart.
So one of the first things having explicit shared work values does is to
unite the team
I can even go further and say that it is a necessary component to turn a group of individuals into an actual team.
Shared work values help drive a shared business direction
Values help define the business goals and direction on a company, team and individual level. The clearer and more outspoken they are, the better they can guide and inform the business decisions that we make.
One of my team’s values is related to continuous improvement and innovation. Naturally, one of our primary goals is to constantly find ways to do things better. Having this goal rest on one of our foundational values keeps it high on our priority list even at times when we are overworked and pulled in other directions.
Clear team values mean clear expectations
One of the most common grievances employees have towards managers is the lack of clarity in expectations. We often spend much time prescribing our performance expectations, but we forget to set clear guidelines on conduct.
And what is it that values do? They determine the acceptable and desired behaviors.
Talking about the team’s values and defining them in operational terms helps create clear expectations for our employees. And even more than that, having a conversation about values and their meaning opens a space in which employees feel safer to seek clarity if such is not provided.
Shared work values promote a sense of purpose
One of our main jobs as managers is to keep our employees motivated and engaged. And one of the most crucial factors for engagement is having a sense of meaning and purpose in one’s job.
This sense comes primarily from the belief that your work contributes to something more significant than the simple sum of the tasks you complete. Shared values play a big role in building and maintaining this belief.
For most employees, knowing that the work they do aligns with their values provides a sense of satisfaction and self-fulfillment that largely contributes to feeling their work has meaning.
Helps you get the right people
Being cognizant of the team’s values also helps with hiring decisions. More often than we like to admit, what turn out to be bad hires are not people who cannot perform the work but people whose behaviors and attitudes are not appropriate for the team.
At different times in our team’s development, we may be looking for either people whose values match ours or employees who will bring something new and enrich our values. In either of those cases, we do need to know our values and be able to converse about them during the interview process. So that there are no bad surprises afterward.
What’s in it for you as an employee
Team values are super important, but for them to bring all the benefits described above, they need to match our personal work values. And those are also not something we think about very often.
While we are usually more or less aware of what is essential for us in our work, we rarely spend the time to look deep and clearly list and prioritize our core work values. And we sometimes discover how crucial a certain value is for us the hard way – when someone at our workplace goes against it, and we cannot take it.
Find the right job
I keep learning this hard lesson over and over. I have left jobs due to a severe clash between personal and team values. And I have also spent some painful years in companies that did not align with my core work values.
Now the first thing I do when I apply for a new job is to look into the company’s values. And many of the questions I ask during the interview process are related to how these values are translated into behaviors.
This helps me form my decision on whether the company is the right place for me. I also try to understand the values of the team that I am to get into as those do not always match the company’s fully.
Helps you distinguish right from wrong
Corporate life is exceedingly complex. It is marked by severe competition for limited resources, rapidly changing priorities, political alliances and pitfalls and much, much change. And all this can be very, very confusing.
Having explicit work values can serve as our compass and help us navigate the corporate jungle. We can always remind ourselves what we hold dear and stay true to ourselves.
Feel a sense of belonging
Think about the people you have chosen to surround you in your life. They usually find importance in the same things that you do. It may be music, or helping those in need, or eradicating all who dislike kittens from the face of the earth. In any case, your common interests and values create a feeling of togetherness.
Shared work values create a similar sense of belonging. Finding people who value the same things as you at work can be very motivating and increase your professional well-being.
But to do that, you need to know what your values are and be able to have a meaningful conversation about them.
Of course, there is a flip side…
Having well-defined values makes you far less likely to compromise with them. As a manager, this would mean that you may not be able to tolerate employees whose behavior violates the team values despite their performance.
Similarly, as an employee, you will not remain in teams or companies which trample on your values for long, no matter how good the pay or the career opportunities.
But personally, I prefer it that way. It’s much more honest.