Poor Practices Doom Workplace Inspiration

frustrated young business manI’ve been helping leaders create high performing, values-aligned organizations for over 17 years.

My first blog post – on April 17, 2010 (I was slow coming to the blogosphere!) – outlined the foundation of my proven culture refinement process: crafting clear performance expectations and clear values expectations, then holding everyone accountable for both.

This is my 263rd weekly blog post – and 178th weekly podcast. All of those efforts have promoted one big idea – that leaders must be as intentional about values as they are about performance.

My latest book, The Culture Engine, describes how leaders can create workplace inspiration with an organizational constitution. It’s all about clear expectations then ensuring accountability for both performance and values.

The benefits of aligning practices to an organizational constitution are astounding. Clients see 40 percent gains in employee engagement, 40 percent gains in customer service, and 35 percent gains in results and profits, all within 18 months of starting their culture refinement.

The increased interest in organizational culture enables some cool conversations. In one recent exchange, a journalist asked my opinion regarding employee engagement policies in organizations. My answer was that if an organization has policies that encourage employee engagement, that’s great – but that daily practices are much more important than policies alone.

Why? Practices – the daily plans, decisions, and actions by leaders and team members in an organization – either create workplace trust, dignity, and respect in every interaction or they don’t.

Companies should have policies that outline desired interaction quality – respectful treatment no matter what. But aligning practices to those desired behaviors is what creates workplace inspiration and trust.

Policies alone create awareness of desired behaviors. They don’t, however, guarantee aligned behaviors.

To ensure practices are aligned with policies, leaders must be role models and champions of employee engagement and workplace inspiration. To be a proactive champion is not a passive responsibility. It requires intention, time, energy, modeling, coaching, and redirecting by leaders to align plans, decisions, and actions to those policies, in every interaction, every day.

I don’t think organizations intentionally craft policies that erode employee engagement or workplace inspiration, but many policies do exactly that!

Most organizations and their leaders focus exclusively on results. It’s all they know. Their role models (bosses from their past and present) focused primarily on results. The metrics and dashboards in their organization measure and reward exclusively results. Policies reinforce this focus: set goals, then measure progress towards those goals.

Don’t misunderstand me: results are important! But when leaders put 100% of their focus on results, people will get those results in ways that may not be kind, considerate, or always ethical.

There is a better way. Our best bosses created a safe, inspiring work environment by making values as important as results. They gave us clear values expectations as well as clear performance expectations – and held us accountable for both.

How we behave to get desired results is as important as the results themselves.

Companies that are intentional about performance and values see the gains I note above – huge growth in employee engagement, customer service, and results.

Too few companies are intentional about values. Leaders think that people will behave nicely. Yet people behave badly (some worse than others) when the only thing that is measured, monitored and rewarded is results.

Policies that encourage employee engagement are a good start. The hard work comes after the policies are published, when every leader and team member aligns to practices that not only deliver on results, but do so in ways that treat everyone with dignity, trust, and respect.

How clear are values expectations in your organization? To what degree are team leaders and team members held accountable for both performance and values in your organization? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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