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January, 18, 2021  |    |    |  

Embracing Values: Leading in the Next Economy

The inevitable finally came to pass: America’s game show host in chief, driven by who knows what neuroses and clinging to his ever-extractive, winner-takes-all mindset, encouraged an unruly mob of morons and fascists to attack the US Capitol.

Graphic of pink coloured interwoven steps showing the hashtag Emerge Stronger
Mike Rowlands
is President & CEO at Junxion. Reach out to Mike via [email protected] to get started with inspiring effective, values-driven culture in your organization.  

Five people were killed. The damage to the American Republic will take much longer to calculate.

It was a horror to watch. Yet as the news unfolded, what may have shocked me most was the response of the hosts and pundits on CNN: Most of them seemed surprised by it all! How could this be, after four years of America’s orange-hued nightmare?! Hasn’t his cruel, erratic, and self-aggrandizing behaviour provided enough clues?! January 6 shouldn’t have been surprising: Trump, his allies and acolytes behaved perfectly in line with their values.

We’ll leave it to the sociologists and anthropologists to discern just what that says about America. Let’s instead direct our attention to one of the many things that happened next…. 

What do Citigroup, Marriott, BlueCross BlueShield, and Boston Scientific have in common? As a result of the attack on the US Capitol, each of them made the swift decision to stop writing cheques to America’s national Republican Party.

As I write this, CVS, FedEx, and Target are all considering following suit. (So is Exxon Mobil, a company all too familiar with truth manipulation and poor decisions. Apparently, even “the Michael Jordan of climate change denial” has limits.)

Big Companies. Big Cheques. Big on Values?

By withdrawing their funding, these quick-acting brands signal publicly their integrity, their commitment to stability, and their respect for American ideals. Headline news.

Really? Integrity, stability, and respect are headline news? We think not. These are more like the norms of a healthy society. We like to call them ‘Table Stakes’ values—the traits you must demonstrate just to get a seat at the game of business.

What does it mean to lead with values?

One of our favourite business authors, Patrick Lencioni, calls them, ‘Permission-to-Play’ values. Whatever you call them, they’re the “minimum behavioural and social standards required of any company, and indeed of any employee.”

This is the second post in a series outlining fundamental principles of the next economy—the one we see emerging from local movements around the world, and the one we believe is going to flourish as we emerge from the COVID pandemic. Last week, we wrote about the importance of embedding purpose in your organization; this week, we’re writing about embracing values.

In their best-selling Strengths Based Leadership, authors Tom Rath and Barry Conchie report a study that engaged over 10,000 respondents and identified four “basic needs” followers expect in their leaders:

  • Trust (including similar traits like honesty, integrity, respect)
  • Compassion (including caring, friendship, happiness, love)
  • Stability (including security, strength, support, peace)
  • Hope (including direction, faith, guidance)

“Basic needs.” In other words, Table Stakes. Permission-to-Play values. By definition, these are the values that give shape to healthy relationships, organizations, and societies. When these begin to crumble, the slide toward fracture and cruelty is all too predictable and fast.

So if these values are the bare minimum, what does it mean to embrace values-based leadership? Is it simply to uphold these values, as Citigroup, Marriott, and company seem to have done? Or should we be expecting something more?

Crossing the Threshold of the Next Economy

Expectations shift with every generation. So companies that merely meet accepted social norms will be out of date in a few short years. If businesses want to emerge stronger post-COVID, they must embrace the values of the next economy—values that support transparency, connection and collaboration, social justice and equity, and values that respect the climate’s real limits.

Start by Defining Meaningful Values

Every company chooses values; more often than not, they even take care to choose and define words that say something about what leaders want, and about the culture they hope to create. Most companies even do a good job of publishing and sharing their values. All this is good…. But in the next economy, it’s not enough.

We’ve talked before about our methodology for selecting, articulating, and leading from values. Yes, you should carefully choose the right words—in an open and inclusive process with your team. Yes, you should carefully define those words—using stories of values in action to identify the principles that really underpin the words. And you should take the third step to bring the values to life: identify the behaviors you’ll need to see across your organization, if you’re to believe your colleagues are leading with values.

You must also evaluate adherence to values, just as you evaluate adherence to stated objectives and key results. In the next economy, how we work together is given equal consideration as what we do together.

Values can be measured—just like your KPIs and your OKRs.

It’s simply not okay for big companies to get ahead by funding corrupt government officials…. Similarly, it’s not okay for individuals or teams to achieve results at the expense of their teammates.

Hire for values: Effective organizational cultures are built when a team adheres to stated values through time—just as healthy societies are built when citizens do the same. All companies hire for skills, expertise, and experience. Why not also hire for values alignment? The interview questions are no more complicated.

At Junxion, when we interview new prospective new team members, we ask questions that consider fit for the role (skills, expertise, and experience), capacity to support leadership, and alignment to our cultural values of courage, generosity, and fun. That cultural fit is given equal weight in our decision-making—and if there isn’t a fit, it’s a deal breaker. Book a chat with me, if you’d like to learn more.

Use Values to Guide Your Decisions

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, in the next economy, companies consistently use their values to guide their decisions—all their decisions. Often, when big decisions are being made and the stakes feel high, someone at the table will surprise themselves by remembering, “Hey! Why don’t we think about how this aligns with our values?!” Why wait for the big moment to practice the vital skills of values-driven leadership.

In effective, values-led organizations, all staff are empowered to make all their decisions through a values lens. And not table stakes values—real, chosen, societally supportive values.

Values are the cornerstones of culture. Without careful, proactive management, culture will take on a life of its own. It will either be a valuable enabler of progress, or a catastrophic disabler. 

This is why a values-driven approach must be among the obsessions of leadership.

Author Mike Rowlands,

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