Like many companies, we have posters in our offices that display our company values. These posters serve as reminders of the kind of company we are. Our values are the principles that guide our interactions with each other and with our clients. We regularly refer to them in our decision making, policy creation, and planning. They play a role in our hiring and evaluation process. In short, they are the bedrock upon which we are building our company.
During normal times, we do a pretty good job living out our values. But what about when crisis comes? Crisis upsets everything. It challenges us financially. It disrupts the way we do business. It eats away at our assumptions, and a crisis like the one we are currently in challenges our very survival. This is the time when our values and leadership are put to the test. It is during this crisis that we demonstrate whether our values are our core, or just posters on a wall.
Under the pressure we are all facing, it is tempting for us and our teams to take shortcuts, act out of fear or give way to panic. And panic causes us to action in ways that do not line up with our identity. It leads us to make decisions that our panicked mind tells us are necessary to survive, but in the end stand in opposition to our values. And if we sacrifice our values during this time, what do we have left? At some point this crisis will resolve. What will our employees and customers know about us then? Will they know that we were everything that those posters claim we are, or will our true values have been exposed?
As leaders, it is essential that we do not allow ourselves (or our teams) to forget who we are. Times like this call for more than giving a presentation about our values. We must be intentional about them. Staying true to them requires active thought, open conversation and intentional action. This is a great time to lead our teams in practical discussions around our values. Try asking them why they think each value is important right now. Work with them to create a list of specific actions that reflect each value. Have a candid and honest conversation about why it might be difficult to live those values out during this crisis. Be open about where your values may be in tension with other values or objectives. Ask them to identify individuals they see modeling your values. Real stories about what it looks like right now are better than any poster or slogan. Use those stories to reemphasize “this is who we are”.
With all that is going on right now, some may wonder, can we afford the time and effort to have these conversations when our business is at stake? You can’t afford NOT to have these conversations right now. This is the time that our values matter most. Your business is at stake. This crisis is testing the very core of who we all are. If we let that get away from us now, we may never recover it.
Identifying core values is a great exercise, but it takes intentionality for them to remain woven into the fabric of our organizations. Now, more than ever, we need a compass, a stabilizing force to guide us through this crisis. When we allow our values to be that guide, they will be more than just a nice poster on the wall. They will be a powerful description of who we really are.