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  • David S Cohen

The Marriage of Purpose and Passion

Everyone faces difficult situations, be it in one’s professional or personal life. It’s worth emphasizing how clear values become during these times of crisis. In tough times, people often face decisions that promise potential relief or success but violate the values or fail to move the company towards its vision. Which direction will you choose?

When employees make decisions that earn short-term relief at the expense of values, their peers take note. What will happen to them? Will they be praised and promoted or get critical feedback or action taken against them? These actions set the benchmark and barometer for all future employees’ decisions, especially if they fall in opposition to the existing values.

Similarly, when executives make decisions that are counter to the values, employees receive a message that’s contradictory to the company’s values that they’ve been living. As a result, we see a breakdown in the existing cohesion and cooperation that existed. If an executive can make a decision that runs counter to the company’s values, why wouldn’t the employees make the same decisions in the future?

Those emotions are critical touch stones when it comes to identifying and understanding values. What feels right and what feels wrong when everything is on the line? That’s how you know.

When all is said and done, employees are not deeply impressed by a leader’s degrees, reputation, well-crafted speeches, or the stock performance under their watch. They are motivated by how a leader makes them feel through their actions and words. That’s what gets shared across the organization and passed on from one generation of employees to the next. That’s culture.

When leaders andemployees hold each other accountable to values, the culture is strengthened. It has a code of conduct; it is the ethics of doing business right. It promotes and supports proper governance, meaningful social responsibility, rich diversity, and the aligned execution of business strategy.

Over time, that creates and solidifies the organization’s identity and the employee experience. In turn, that feeds the level of employee engagement. Outsiders learn about you by the actions you have taken and decide whether they want to join you as an employee or a customer. The outside in view is what becomes your employee brand.

Steve Jobs once said, “People don’t know what they want until you show them.” But a company doesn’t know what it wants until it feels a genuine sense of purpose and passion for its work.

It is not the CEO’s speech that matters, rather the speech the CEO lives.

Reinforcing the Code

Here are some important tips in building an inside-out understanding of culture:

  • Have the CEO lead the initiative, not HR or Communications. It must be seen as a must-do business activity.

  • Learn your biggest lessons from your most vulnerable times. And decode them and learn from them.

  • Values and behaviors create your employee experience. That’s what your employees live each day, not some slogan or PR jargon.

  • Your authentic values are the basis of an integrated talent management process. They need to be enforced during orientation, performance feedback, and any promotion decisions.

  • Promoting a person who does not live the values, especially in a senior role, creates cynicism and low morale.

  • The CEO, not Human Resources, needs to establish the definition of acceptable and unacceptable performance as the company benchmark for all activities associated with managing talent.

  • When an employee falls below the acceptable standard, we need the courage to take appropriate action.

  • Likewise, when decisions go against values, your employees will soon turn against you.

Here’s the calculated risk to articulating your authentic values and corresponding behaviors - once you do, you will be measured against them. Your employees will watch what you do and what you say very carefully if they sense you’re violating the values you stated, and the values they now share.

However, if you live true to your values, no matter what crisis brings or customers seem to want, then you’ll be showing your people respect, developing their capabilities (your most important asset), and growing their sense of passion and belonging.

When the next crisis or change in the market comes, which in this VUCA world won’t be long, your organization and your people will be ready. Call on your values to survive VUCA times. Measure your intended action to align with your values before you take action and you will grow from strength to strength.

In short, leaders can learn to be whole by saying what they really mean and doing what they say.

For the past 30+ years, I have been helping companies to be more values and purpose/vision focused. I worked with leaders aligning strategy to values. By assisting companies to focus on desired value behaviours the talent management processes enables the firm to become more talent-driven. My book, Inside the Box, details how companies have risen and fallen based on putting values before profits. You can download, for free, the Introduction and Chapter 1 of the book by following this link.