Creating a Framework for your Organization’s Core Values

While many organizations have written Core Values, most do not have a framework to recognize, coach, and evaluate employees on these values. Without this framework, the Core Values are just eloquent statements used for marketing purposes (e.g., look at the About Us section of any corporate website).  However, when companies recognize, coach and evaluate employees on workplace behaviors that support its Core Values, the values truly become part of a company’s culture.  

To create this framework you must begin by defining expectations for each Core Value.  For example, what behaviors would someone need to constantly display to meet these expectations?  What behaviors are needed to rate each Core Value highly?  When you break down your Core Values by answering these two questions, your team members will start to understand what they mean and how they apply.

Case Study

Our company helped a community hospital implement the Performance Culture System and part of our scope included facilitating a leadership session to define expectations for its Core Values.  The hospital’s seven Core Values were: Hospitality; Joy; Justice; Quality; Respect; Stewardship; and Teamwork.

Before we began the session I asked the most senior levels (C-Level) to hold off on their comments to allow middle-level leaders to voice their thoughts without being influenced.  We started the session by simply asking what the hospital’s Core Values meant to them. The responses ranged from being very specific (i.e., Quality metrics the hospital must report on) to definitions found via online dictionaries from Google searches.  Ideally, the team would have referenced common expectations specific to the hospital but to be fair, this seldom happens.

Through our dialogue, the team agreed on how each Core Value should be defined.  With this consensus, I asked the team to describe what meeting or exceeding expectations looked like.  This is where the conversation became really interesting because values like quality and hospitality require different expectations when coaching employees in different departments.  

From a clinical perspective (i.e., nurses and doctors), quality was about the right diagnosis and treatment.  The hospitality value was about seeing the patients and visitors as customers versus patients.

From a facility maintenance perspective (i.e., making sure the hospital didn’t lose power or was very clean), quality was about power reliability and sanitation.  The hospitality value was similar to the clinical perspective but different in terms of patient interactions. For example, how patients were treated in the lobby versus how patients were treated during clinical care.

After the team agreed on the different perspectives, we tackled what success looked like for each position (i.e., meeting expectations versus exceptional performance).  The outcome produced the following expectations:

1. Hospitality — You are welcome here

  • Meets Expectations:
    Accommodate.  Always put on the friendly face.  Always greet. Genuine. Customer service.  Treat others the way they want to be treated. Creating a hospitable environment.
  • Exceptional Performance:
    Cherry on top, the little extra.  You are a “hostess”-going out of your way to accommodate (walking people to where they need to go, ask if they need extra accommodations, help with doors, make sure they aren’t alone)

2. Joy –Lasting happiness in a changing world

  • Meets Expectations:
    Being positive, open-minded, open to change, showing joy in everyday work, living passion and purpose, not expressing negativity
  • Exceptional Performance:
    You are doing things to help other people be more joyful.  Making changes or suggestions to become even more joyful or create an environment for more joy

3. Justice — For the powerless empowers us all

  • Meets Expectations:
    Being fair and equitable to all.  Nonjudgmental. Empowering peers and patients to make decisions.   
  • Exceptional Performance:
    Taking initiative to make things better.  Speaking up.

4. Quality — A meaningful presence in our community

  • Meets Expectations:
    Achieving good outcomes.  Following procedures and protocols.  Good intent. Quality work that people can depend on.  
  • Exceptional Performance:
    Engaged and participating in improvement efforts.  Genuine interest in improving patient health, not just going through the motions or doing the minimum.

5. Respect — Given and received creates peace

  • Meets Expectations:
    Treat others as you want to be treated.  Listening to and understanding other’s ideas.  Not participating in water cooler talk.
  • Exceptional Performance:
    Taking initiative to help other people from being disrespectful in a positive way.  Stopping water cooler talk. Praising and reinforcing positive behavior.

6. Stewardship — All things great and small

  • Meets Expectations:
    Making good use and taking good care of our resources.
  • Exceptional Performance:
    Actively engaging in utilizing resources more effectively.

7. Teamwork — Many hearts one goal

  • Meets Expectations:
    Participating, accountability, open to change, positive attitude, ability to align, support the direction of the organization.
  • Exceptional Performance:
    Ability to sacrifice biases for the good of the whole.  Participating in change and process improvement. Being sought out to be on teams. Helping people be included as part of the team.

Getting to these common definitions was not difficult.  It only required a facilitated conversation to get everyone on the same page.  The leadership team now had a framework to recognize, coach and evaluate team members on the hospital’s Core Values.  After our session, the leaders were asked to communicate what these Core Values really meant to the organization. This set clear expectations for all.

To make these values stick, managers were asked to give frequent feedback to their team members.  The feedback insured employees were recognized for displaying behaviors that supported the Core Values as well as “course correcting” individuals whose actions were not in line with expectations.    

What gets rewarded gets repeated.  What is tolerated becomes accepted. Managers must make sure they keep both of these statements in mind when coaching employees.  We must make time to recognize employees for positive contributions. We must also make time to address negative behaviors, otherwise, these negative behaviors may informally change your Core Values and workplace culture.

Clear expectations and frequent feedback has really made an impact on the hospital’s culture, but there is still room to improve. Embracing your Core Values as part of employee recognition, coaching, and evaluation does require time and effective change management.  On day one, you will see both excitement and doubt. However, if you stick with it by starting with clear expectations, recognition, and coaching, you will start to see a shift in behaviors.  If this is done well, the evaluation phase (i.e., performance reviews) really makes the change become the defacto norm.

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