June 10, 2011 | Barb Carr

Career Development: Develop A Values Blueprint by Captain George J. Burk

Core: That which is solid and practical in character, quality and importance. Syn: substance, gist, pith, purport.

Values: Important and enduring beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good and desirable and what is not.

To improve an organization’s effectiveness, it should have a clear set of core values by which it functions. Examples of core values include honesty, integrity, compassion, competence, commitment, courage, safety first, quality, placing the customer first, servant leadership, and a sense of humor and/or fun in the workplace.  A clearly written core values blueprint provides future employees a clear sense of the organization’s culture and what’s expected of them. It also gives current employees the blueprint of what is expected when they interact with each other and external clients. This writer and Ann Rhoades, author of “Built on Values,” offer a few ways to develop the core values blueprint.

Solicit feedback. Honest, open and timely feedback from people who will tell you what you need to know, not what they think you want to hear. That’s one basic tenet of an outstanding leader: “don’t shoot the messenger.”

Rob Galford, partner at Concord. Mass. – based “Center for Leading Organizations,” says that regardless if you’re fine-tuning your organizations’ values statement or developing a new one, determine what your staff believes the organization’s values are, what they mean to them and what they should be.  My 50 plus years experience knowing and working with many great leaders has shown me that an organizations’ values blueprint is best developed and understood if the leaders have their own values blueprints. The blueprint should be sequential and seamless; just there and acted upon without any hesitation or mental reservation. Asking your staff what the values should be is more effective than you telling them what you think the values blueprint should be. It’s the subtle but important difference between “buying in” and “committing and enrolling.”

“No great performance ever came from holding back.”

~ Don Greene, performance coach

Be realistic. To be effective and realistic, an organization’s core values statement must demonstrate to the employees how they should respond in specific circumstances. Give them precise real life examples that would test their core values, Galford said.

Test the Values Plan. “After an organization develops its core values blueprint, the next step is for leaders to test the values blueprint with their staff,” says Rhoades. Visit the employees in their work sites and ask them if they think it will work. Do they understand it? Will they commit and enroll in the values plan? The strategy is to “see if it’s something your people can live up to,” she said.

Hire to the culture. Recruit, interview and hire people who, as best as can be determined, live and weave the values and behaviors you seek. One way is to present a specific situation that tests their commitment to the values of ethics, integrity, teamwork, quality, and other values you aim to build upon in your organization and team. “We looked for people who would put their job on the line by telling the truth,” Rhoades said of her days as chief people officer at Southwest Airlines and as a founding executive at Jet Blue Airways.

Focus on the individual(s). Organizations can write as many values statement as they care to but it will have little or no significance if the people don’t believe in it. The blueprint depends on leadership and the people.   For example, remember Enron? The company had a great list of principles that included trust before it crashed amid all the criminal charges and the destroyed lives it left in its wake, inside and outside of the firm. I know from my own personal experiences that values statements that tout integrity, trust, respect, quality or other core values, the leadership and the employees must live them to be effective. The values don’t start and stop at the front door. They’re weaved into a person’s mind; it’s automatic; they live it, walk it, talk it and follow the core values without hesitation. “(Core) Values are much more in how we live and the decisions we make than anything in a statement,” Galford said.

“Perfect valor is to do without witness what one would do before all the world.”

~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld, writer

Follow-up. This is an important step. Said another way, “Establish accountability.”  “It’s important to insure the role you want values to play in the organization,” Galford says.  Weave the values statement into the employee’s performance reviews and professional development plans.  Assign a specific percentage of their performance on how effective they lived up to the organization’s value principles. Title it, “Organization’s Core Values Performance” or similar statement that captures what you want to measure. Assign a percentage or weighted factor for it, e.g. 10%, 15%. Critical evaluation elements within it may include customer satisfaction, employee performance, department production or other measurable criteria. Turnover is another element if a supervisor fails to apply the core values with their staff.  It’s important to assign the critical evaluation criteria sufficient weight to show its importance but not too much weight to the detriment of other performance evaluation criteria.

“Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.”

~ Yogi Berra, baseball player

Analyze results. Establish a way to measure the results of the (new) core values system that can be reflected in improved customer service, quality, mission/training effectiveness, and/or employee morale.

Establish recognition. People’s actions are the reflections of their attitudes. How they think is how they act or act-out.  Their actions are often a direct result from the incentives they are provided. Remember the analogy of the carrot and the stick or of a certain type of animal that sits on its arse and refuses to budge. Reward more for the right kind of attitudes and behaviors and improved attitudes and behaviors is what you’ll most often receive.  Reward, not just in terms of money, which is always welcomed, but reward for tangible rewards: honesty, character, customer service, and training completed, and so on. Regardless of the type of rewards, make them public.  “Then everyone else notices, and it’s very impactful,” Rhoades said.  Movie tickets, restaurant gift certificates, tickets to athletic events, pre-paid cards for fuel and/or groceries. The examples are almost endless. Place yourself in the shoes of your employees and ask “what would I appreciate most?” Rhoads said that Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher would mail letters to employees’ homes to reinforce solid behavior.

“If you want risk taking, set an example yourself and reward and praise those that do.”

~ Jack Welch, General Electric chief executive

No exceptions. During the recruiting, hiring and evaluation processes, make it perfectly clear that individuals who violate or attempt to subvert the organization’s values principles will not be tolerated. Make it also clear that termination is an option.  Written documentation and verbal reinforcement is necessary and that there will be no exceptions. One senior officer I knew had his promotion reversed. It was ‘suggested’ by his superiors that he retire early and he did…at his previous rank. He didn’t walk-the-talk when it came to the rules and regulations everyone was expected to follow.  His words didn’t mirror his actions; he conducted himself in a way that gave the impression that the rules were for everyone else; he believed and acted like he was “better than everyone else” simply because he was the senior officer of the organization.  He finally got caught (accountable) in his lies and deceptions.  Funny thing: he put his pants on just like everyone else.

“As a coach, your high standards of performance, attention to detail—and above all—how hard you work set the stage for how your players perform.”

~ Don Shula, coach

If the core values aren’t lived (personal), then they don’t exist (professional). To be successful, they must be seamless and sequential.   

“Managing is getting paid for homeruns someone else hits.”

~ Casey Stengel, baseball manager

How you think is everything. Always be positive. Think success, not failure.

God Bless America and our men and women in uniform.


George A. Burk, of Scottsdale, Arizona, is a nationally recognized motivational speaker, author and trainer.   In May 1970, he was the sole survivor of 14 passengers in a military plane crash.  He suffered severe burns and multiple internal injuries. George spent 90 days in Intensive Care where he had two Near Death Experiences, and spent 18 months in the hospital.  Learn more about Captain Burk on his website:  www.georgeburk.com

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