It’s all about the behaviors.

As obvious as it might seem, the most important step in establishing a high performing culture is to define with great clarity exactly what you want that culture to be; for if you can’t describe it clearly, you’re not likely to be able to make it happen.

In our experience speaking and working with hundreds of companies across the country, the most common mistake we see is an over-reliance on the discussion of core values and a corresponding under-appreciation for the importance of behaviors. Let’s look more closely at what these words mean and why their difference is so critical.

Values vs Behaviors

Values are abstract terms. They’re concepts or notions, ideas we may believe in. Examples of values are ideas like:

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While values are abstract, behaviors are concrete. They’re actions we can literally see people doing. They’re verbs, rather than nouns. Examples of behaviors are actions like:

  Practice blameless problem-solving

  Do it right the first time

  Be vigilant about safety

  Do what’s best for the client

  Take ownership

  Communicate to be understood

The reason this difference is so important is clarity. Values, by their abstract nature, often leave too much room for interpretation. They can mean too many different things to too many different people.

You may value respect, but what it means to act in a respectful way can be vastly different from one person to another depending on the family and the culture in which they grew up. We can all agree that service is a value we can get behind, but what constitutes great service can vary tremendously from person to person. So simply saying we value respect or quality or service isn’t sufficient.   We need to go beyond the vagueness of values and articulate specific behaviors.

Behaviors are clear

Because behaviors are actions, they’re far easier to explain with more clarity. We can actually see someone doing a behavior and can more easily understand just what’s expected. For the same reason, it’s far easier to teach and coach behavior, and to give people appropriate feedback for improvement.

When we describe our culture in terms of the values we believe in, most people will feel good. But it tends to do little to actually influence what they do on a daily basis. The vagueness makes it difficult to operationalize.

However, when we describe our culture in terms of the behaviors we want to see taking place each day, it tends to resonate with people in a way that influences their actions. As leaders, it gives us the tools and the opportunities to actually teach and reinforce what we’re looking for. And at the end of the day, that’s what creating and driving a culture is all about – getting our people to more consistently be the way we want them to be.

We’ve developed and honed a simple, straightforward way to help leaders like you articulate and define the specific behaviors that, when practiced consistently, would drive significantly improved performance in your organization. Give us a call if you’d like to learn more about how it can be done.

Next topic: Skip the vision and mission. 


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