Imagine an employee who is extremely good at her job, who exceeds her performance goals every quarter, and who clients describe as “indispensable.” Imagine that it’s because of her that your company has grown so fast over the past few years. Now picture this: Whenever things don’t go as planned, your “star” employee yells, threatens, and curses at team members. She has a hair-trigger temper and becomes defensive when criticized. And yet, for years, senior management has tolerated this behavior- even rewarded it with promotions, achievement awards, and performance bonuses!
So it may be easy to imagine how, eventually, employees figure out that the truth of the company culture is not what’s written on the official statement of values — “we treat one another with dignity” — but rather, that of an unwritten rule: You get a pass on bad behavior if you bring a lot of money into the company.
Is this scenario more real than imaginary to you? Too often leaders make a bargain with the devil that looks something like this: This person is so great at his or her job that we’re willing to tolerate their dysfunction because — nobody’s perfect. When you make this bargain you’re essentially saying that “core values” are only relevant when they are convenient and that financial gain trumps all values. In doing so, you’ve gained some profit but lost integrity.
But it’s never too late to regain your integrity. Here are three questions that help me relocate my “True North” — the values and principles that guide my choices each day.
*What are the values for which we are prepared to lose money or end a relationship?
*What do we tolerate, joke about, or pretend not to see that actually isn’t OK?
*In what situations have we intervened because it was the right thing to do?
This all seems simple on paper. But leading organizations is fraught with conflicting incentives, seductions of the ego, and the routinization of dysfunction. What other questions, if asked on a regular basis, would help you and others to make your core values your reality?
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