When it comes to company values, your actions speak louder than you think.
To put it simply, the pandemic served as wake-up call for organizations and employees as the way we worked changed. The need to “walk the talk” became imperative, meaning organizations needed to put their words into action. Today’s workplace is undergoing a revolution in reorganization and innovation, as people search for balance and purpose. Those organizations that “walk the talk” will attract and retain top talent, differentiate themselves from competitors, build trust with stakeholders and increase brand equity. Those that fail are already facing the effects of The Great Resignation.
We at DHR interviewed some of our leadership consulting experts on what it really means to “walk the talk” and examples they’ve seen in life that serve as learning experiences. We asked them four key questions:
Why is it important for leaders to actively demonstrate company values, i.e., “walk the talk”?
Maryanne Wanca-Thibault, Ph.D, Partner, DHR Leadership Consulting, cited a recent study (Randstad, 2022) that reveals that 40 percent of the employees surveyed would change jobs to work in a company whose values align with their own. She said, “‘Walking the talk’ means that leaders set the tone for employees’ behavior based on what they say and do themselves.” Maryanne explained that effective leaders live by example because it strengthens their ability to influence others, creates clarity around the organization’s culture, increases engagement and potentially reduces stress. Compatible values offer a reliable and guiding foundation which all parties can use to orientate themselves, their aims and their decisions.
Tim Wiseman, Managing Partner, DHR Leadership Consulting, provided an insightful example: During a recent assignment, he was coaching a regional president around the decision to promote a country head to a region-wide leadership role. The candidate in line for promotion was a high revenue earner, but was well known to be difficult, self-oriented and not trusted by his peers—and was pressuring the president to promote him. Tim’s advice to the president was that everyone was watching, and if those behaviors and values were rewarded, it would speak volumes about which trait was most important to the company. The promotion happened, and one of the country heads absolutely refused to work with the newly promoted leader, providing a crucial example of how actions that don’t match culture will have consequences.
How should leaders demonstrate company values?
Maryanne is a firm believer that demonstrating values is not based on an occasional grand gesture from a leader. Instead, it means that leaders continually model their own actions to set the desired tone and expectations for others. To illustrate, Maryanne shared the example of a leader who has endorsed a hybrid work environment beyond the pandemic and is doing so for several reasons. First, he trusts his employees will produce their best work and hold themselves accountable regardless of the work setting. He also demonstrates courage and innovation, because currently there is not significant data to support hybrid environments are successful over the long term.
Similarly, Tim cited an example of an office managing director who knew how to translate his words into actions. He was a big propagator of work-life balance, being efficient with one’s calendar and focusing on the important things—like client delight. He employed the “leave loudly” policy. He was known to come in early for quiet work time, then leaving at a reasonable hour and saying goodnight to everyone he saw, so that they knew he was holding himself accountable to the work-life balance value.
How should a leader approach communication and decision-making when looking to demonstrate the importance of company values?
“If leaders have not been living company values through their communication and decision making, then they may be experiencing pushback and employee turnover because employees may not be inspired to follow or adopt what they are experiencing,” stated Maryanne. She pressed on the fact that inconsistency in communication would make matters worse. Every leader should strive to communicate in a clear, transparent and consistent way.
How can leaders best encourage others to demonstrate company values?
Maryanne boiled down her answer to six key points:
- Assess the current environment: Uncover any disconnects between the perceived culture and reality. It can help create an action plan for fixing any issues.
- Share vision and purpose: Create an inspiring vision of the future that also provides employees a purpose – something to look forward to and something to work towards. Make the outcomes achievable and realistic.
- Empower people: Motivate people to get involved by giving them the authority to make decisions. Provide feedback about their performance.
- Reward people: Incentivize people for their efforts. When intrinsic/extrinsic rewards are linked to performance, people will be more committed to behaviors.
- Stay involved: Be available and stay engaged. Ongoing communication is one way to motivate continued behavior.
- Lead by example: Be willing to roll-up your sleeves and work side-by-side with your employees. It demonstrates your ongoing commitment to the company’s core values—that what you expect of yourself is what you expect from others.
In addition, Tim advises, “When you hear an innovative idea from an employee, follow up with them. You may believe the idea won’t work, but people will watch your actions and follow suit.” He continued, “The bottom line is, as humans, we are biologically designed to trust behaviors and not words. The implication is that if those are incongruent, people will not trust the leadership or the company and may choose to take their skillset elsewhere. And, by the way, the people that will notice and make that choice are your high performers and high potentials.”
Meet the Authors
Maryanne Wanca-Thibault, Ph.D.
Maryanne has more than 30 years of experience as a Consultant and Advisor in the areas of leadership assessment, organizational development and executive coaching. As a Partner of DHR Leadership Consulting, she helps clients assess fit for executive, C-suite and board positions.
Leading DHR’s Leadership Consulting Practice for the APAC region, Tim helps organizations assess, retain, reward, and develop their people. He focuses on the design, build, and deployment of large-scale, organizational-wide talent management solutions across multiple sectors.
DHR Leadership Consulting advises clients on their most important leadership and talent management challenges. Selecting and developing the right talent helps organizations, of all shapes and sizes, achieve maximum impact and economic value.
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