Monday, December 9, 2013

Making the Rubber Hit the Road

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Two weeks ago, in The Final Four, I continued writing about the process I used to create my association's values statement, despite some misgivings about the value of values statements I've previously shared and still hold.

We now had our final values statement, developed in collaboration with the entire staff, shaped by my own perspective on what was needed today and in the future, and comprised of four core values:

Leadership: We lead the organization in creating new value for our members.

Enthusiasm: We are excited about growing as individuals and about growing the organization.

Integrity: We act with honesty and professionalism in all our relationships.

Teamwork: We work together to deliver exceptional service.

We had put a lot of work into the process, and I was very satisfied with the result. My staff, too, had been energized by the discussion, and supported the four core values as being important to both our current and future success.

But it would be dishonest to say that everyone didn't realize that the hardest work still lay ahead. We had our values--but by design they were somewhat aspirational. They did not describe our current culture. They described the culture we wanted to create. Even if everyone diligently applied themselves, making the values manifest in our organization was going to be a challenge.

From my own perspective, this was not something I expected immediate action on, and I communicated as much to my staff. Culture change, I said, was a process, not an event. And that for every two steps we took forward, I expected there would be one step back.

It's been ten months since I said these words, and with the benefit of hindsight, I find myself thinking that this approach might have been a mistake. We have had less success in embracing the values than I had hoped we would, and I wonder if a more "zero tolerance" approach to actions that contradict our values wouldn't have proven more effective.

I'll write about some of our steps forward and some of our steps back in future posts, but coming out of the gate, there was one tool that we thought would help everyone understand how to demonstrate the values in our day-to-day operations.

We called them behaviors. For each value, we had worked to define a number of behaviors--descriptions of actions that could be observed--that would help us determine if someone was truly exhibiting the value in question. By way of example, here are the behaviors that we had agreed upon for the value of Leadership:

  • We are concise and articulate in our speech and writing.
  • We minimize complexity, and look for efficiencies that can be shared across the organization.
  • We bring purpose and understanding to complex and uncertain environments.
  • We engage others in iterative processes that result in higher levels of value and engagement.
  • We think strategically, make wise decisions despite ambiguity, and act with intention.
  • We challenge prevailing assumptions, suggest better approaches, and create new ideas that prove useful.
  • We exhibit a bias towards action, and avoid analysis-paralysis.
  • We take smart risks, learn from our mistakes, and share lessons with others.

These were intended to give us concrete examples of what it meant to demonstrate leadership in our association, and a similar list existed for each of the other values. I had hoped that staff members would be able to review the list of behaviors, and easily identify actions that they had taken that aligned with them and those that hadn't--and to test that concept, I next asked everyone to do exactly that.

It was coming up on the time for my next round of on-going performance conversations with each staff member, and simply to test the limits of everyone's understanding of our new values and behaviors, I made the request that each of them prepare a no-more-than-one-page description of how they believe their actions since the time of our last conversation had demonstrated the values and behaviors on our new values statement.

I didn't give them a form to fill out. In fact, I encouraged them to invent their own format for responding to my request. I wanted to see how different people approached the task, and my hope was that it would help reveal examples of real actions people had taken that clearly aligned with the values and behaviors. Those examples, I figured, needed to be identified, documented, and celebrated if we were to increase their prevalence within our organization.

Stay tuned. I'll continue this story in future posts. Up next: The various responses I received from staff, and what they revealed about how the values and behaviors were being understood.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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