Emerge Stronger with Values-Based Leadership

For each of us running organizations, this is a profoundly difficult time. Some of us are lucky to be able to keep working as usual; others have a very different daily rhythm. Others still can’t operate at all, closing their premises and furloughing their staff. If you can’t work in your business, perhaps you can still work on it.

From what we have seen, many businesses need to take this lesson to heart. Britannia Hotels—one of the UK’s most profitable hotel chains—laid off its staff at one of their Scottish hotels, before claiming this was an ‘administrative error’ once the level of government support became clear. But by this point they had already demanded staff vacate their hotel-supplied accommodation—during a lockdown.

Consider the case of Newcastle Football Club, which is charging some supporters for next season’s tickets with this current season suspended, while many of those supporters face an uncertain economic future.

Contrast those behaviours with Unilever, which is contributing €100 million worth of soap, sanitiser, bleach and food to fight the pandemic. Or the UK pub chain Fullers that has said it won’t be asking the managers of its 200 tenanted pubs to pay rent.

What is on show here are the values that the companies and their leaders hold. Read these examples and it’s easy to spot the good, the bad, and the ugly—the companies we would want to buy from or work for, and the ones we would want to avoid.

Your Post-Crisis Success Starts Now

Yes, leaders have to focus on business continuity. This is a crisis and you need all hands to the wheel. But you have to look ahead too and plan to be better than before.

How can we be stronger when we come out of this? One way is to critically review your response as an organization. How did you behave? How did people react? How did they support one another?

I am sure you’ll uncover stories of solidarity, of empathy and of kindness. You may also find things you wish you could redo.

Whether you like it or not, the way you have responded in this crisis tells your people a lot about your values as leaders and the values in the organization you run. Now is the time to start remaking your company, so that you emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.

So where should you start? Initiate a process that explores your organizational values and unpacks what people feel is important. Your values have been on show anyway. You can provide your staff with a structured process to capture and codify the ones that will drive your business success well into the future.

Identifying Your Values

The Schwartz Theory of Basic Human Values shows us that there are ten basic personal values that are recognized across all cultures. And while individuals differ in the importance they attach to each value, on average the same hierarchy of values can be seen across societal groups. This universality makes the ten Schwartz values applicable in organizations of different types and we have used them with everyone from a small independent architect’s practice to larger social sector non-profits.

The ten values are grouped into four clusters as follows:

Figure 1: Four groups of values (Schwartz Theory of Basic Human Values)

Examining your values begins with asking your team to take the 10-15 minutes needed to fill in the Schwartz values survey. An individual moment of reflection that may even be easier if most people in your organization are working from home.

Analysing the results of everyone’s answers to see variances from the mean indicates the relative level of importance your people collectively give to the ten values. And clustering the responses forms the basis for a discussion about what each value looks like in your workplace. ‘Universalism’ may be understood as ‘inclusivity,’ for example. The conversation about each of these values creates the opportunity for people to share stories of when they felt they or others have lived a particular value at its best. And the stories give clues to how people demonstrate their values in action every day.

To get the full value of your stories, the calls to action that are implicit in them must be made clear and explicit. Junxion has developed an approach based on Michael Quinn Patton’s work on Principles-Focused Evaluation that can neatly integrate your stories and values with your overall organizational strategy and management approach.

Bringing together the values, your definition of them, the behaviours you want to see and the stories that illustrate them creates a tool to help you run a better organization and forms the basis of an internal communications campaign. And the whole process can be done while your company is on lockdown and your colleagues are working remotely.

Leading with Values

Leaders have to step up. Managing through a crisis is a good time to express appropriate professional vulnerability: you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t find this challenging too.

But alongside that, leaders can demonstrate they are committed to coming through this with stronger and better fundamental building blocks in place. One imperative building block is your organization’s values. Show your people that you appreciate their response to this crisis so far, and that you want their input into shaping the future of the business. Beyond the words, delve into the stories beneath them, and the calls to action implicit in those stories—the legends of your company’s brightest days.

Now more than ever, it’s how we behave with each other that will define our legacies as leaders, as colleagues and collectively as organizations. Start now, and you’ll emerge from this crisis stronger, healthier, and ahead of the pack.


Adam Garfunkel advises organizations on values, social purpose and impact strategy. To find out more about Junxion’s approach to values-based leadership, reach him at [email protected] or book a call.

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