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A Grassroots Approach to Leading With Your Values, Even When Money Is Tight

October 30, 2009

Today, I’m pleased to have a guest post from Lisa Gates, a life balance specialist, coach and founder of Craving Balance. In this post, Lisa talks about creating values-based work environments and the challenges of staying true to your values. Over to you, Lisa.

In my cubicle life I had the excruciatingly beautiful misfortune of finding work in organizations that were on the brink of something dire: a merger, a reorganization, a board coup, an embezzlement, etc. In my last three positions leadership hired consultants to help us assess and navigate the change we needed. In all cases leadership chose NOT to retain the consultants, or at the very least the ongoing coaching piece during the implementation phase. Big mistake.

The rationale was always money and the belief that they had the information and the tools and they could buck up and do it themselves. In every case, we ended up where we started, or worse because we had failed again. All these experiences, collectively, lead me to my current profession as a coach, and to my passion for creating values-based environments—starting with the human being first.

It’s not news that happy people make happy workplaces. People who have a deep understanding of who they are and how their non-negotiable values operate in their lives create the possibility of humanizing the workplace and influencing improved bottom lines. But for some reason this work is seen as soft. “Good if you can get it, but we can live without it.” To my mind, this is akin to driving without a steering wheel.

If this is where you find yourself in your current job, you have the opportunity to lead a small movement, starting with your immediate team. A grassroots approach, if you will. The success of this approach will depend on the culture of your workplace and how much energy you want to invest in being a maverick (and your willingness to fail).

Here’s a thumbnail:

Take whatever training budget you can carve out and find an executive coach who can lead you in a values alignment process. (Alternatively, collaborate with an executive coach to lay out a plan for you to follow.)

In this work, you and your team will first be treated to the luxury of rediscovering what makes each of you you. You’ll likely discover that at your core, you value things like integrity, listening, collaboration, accomplishment, and creativity. All delicious, actionable qualities.

The next layer involves examining your company’s core values and how and where you align with those values—where they fit and where they don’t, and how those values tie in to the functions and goals of your team. At this point, you’ll be able to cobble new agreements, design a plan, revise strategies, shift some priorities, and reassign some responsibilities based on individual strengths.

And then a curious thing will happen: Work. Business as usual. Life as usual. One of your clients will complain and threaten to take their business elsewhere. Someone will get defensive and snap back. Within a week or two, all that fabulous clarity flies out the window and you’re back at the water cooler, dividing and conquering and lobbying for your cause.

How did this happen? How did you or your team just disconnect from your values? Well, first, you’re human. You’ll make mistakes. But a few key agreements may be missing that will make all the difference in your relationship to your values, and your daily work environment, and the accomplishment of your goals:

1. Create and sign an agreement about the values you’ve chosen to abide by.

2. Work into your agreement how you want to have each other’s back when one of you falls off the wagon. I call these agreements “permission loops” and they might look like this: “As my team I give you permission to call me out when you notice I’m not acting with integrity or according to my stated commitments.” It’s important to say that this permission does not grant permission to criticize and assail, or to psychologize each other. Simply notice, communicate and recommit.

3. Implement a regular review/check-in structure. In the beginning, a weekly review is helpful to assess your progress. It’s a no-shame-no-blame, just-the-facts kind of check-in. Simply assess, make commitments and move forward. It’s important to always be asking if what you’re doing is working, and if not, what needs to change in order to achieve your goals.

4. Establish a physical structure for putting your values into action. Using the example above, ask what values you promise to “be” in every client interaction? Perhaps listening? Service? Write them down communicate them to your team. Make promises and be accountable at your weekly check-ins.

I realize there is much more than this “values thumbnail” in creating a true organizational process. But what might be possible in your life, your career, and your immediate workplace circumstance if you were to acknowledge that change can, and does it begin with you?

My two cents. Ready for yours.

Lisa Gates, CPCC, is a life balance specialist, coach and founder of Craving Balance. She is passionate about helping women set goals from the inside out, design personalized balance roadmaps, and bring rigorous and soulful accountability to their personal and professional lives. Through their unique Set Your Own Rate and Donate program, all women have access to coaching, while making a contribution to organizations that benefit women’s leadership and women’s equality.

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