Article main image
Sep 30, 2015

Our values are our own. Yet, perspective that results from experiences over time can cause us to question, or even alter our values.

Given that we like comfort, we likely often need help in broadening our perspective.

While some employees just seem to be born with the ability to understand everyone they work with, the majority of us are not. That’s why a culture of continual learning is becoming increasingly necessary for success as we enter the age of diversity in the workplace.

In other words, “always be learning.”

Aligning personal values to the organization

In order to create a culture of continual learning, it is necessary to implement a formal learning program. After all, soft skills such as leadership development and diversity inclusion training  — as critical as they are in today’s dynamic business landscape —  are not top of mind, nor are they easy to learn on one’s own.

A learning management platform can help you teach soft skills as easily as hard skills, and give your employees a chance to learn these lessons proactively, instead of reactively.

It may be easy to teach someone a new skill, however, an employee’s values are their own. The goal is not to change someone’s values, but rather to find alignment between an individual’s values and those of their organization – driving similar expectations regarding behaviors.

In the workplace, personal values may not always be at the forefront of our thoughts, however, they greatly impact and influence our habits, which may be driven by assumptions, fear and simply not knowing what we don’t know. Without intent, a range of exclusionary and counterproductive behaviors can result.

Some values that are desired in the workplace

Sharing values helps people trust one another. This is not only true for your employees, but also for your customers, partners and other stakeholders, since trust is the groundwork for any healthy professional or personal relationship. Some common examples of shared values that are desired in and around the workplace include:

  • Accountability
  • A sense of purpose;
  • Thoroughness;
  • High standards; and,
  • Positivity.

However, the reality is that all of your employees will not share the same values 100 percent of the time. So, how can those in leadership roles still manage effectively, even after acknowledging that your employees’ personal values may be very difficult, if not impossible, to change?

You can still manage effectively by making leadership decisions based on your own personal values. Although this may not change your employees’ values, it can certainly influence their habits and behaviors.

Although their own values may remain the same, your employees will most likely readjust their habits and behaviors to align with the culture, tone and expectations that your values as a transparent leader have set for the organization.

1. Recognize the difference between beliefs and values

According to Ann-Cathrin Starke of Erasmus University Rotterdam, the key difference between beliefs and values in the workplace is that our beliefs are based on the past, whereas our values are based on the future. Employees in your organization may often let beliefs influence their decisions because they are attempting to avoid past mistakes, or replicate past successes.

As a leader, you may likely often find yourself doing the same thing. The problem is that no two situations are the same, especially as the years pass, so what has failed or worked in the past may likely not apply today – for both leaders and their employees.

2. Let your values, not beliefs, guide leadership decisions

As a leader, you can make values-based decisions that are independent of any single event. This is because we base our values on what we want to happen, not what has happened.

Managing and leading based on beliefs can lead to a culture of rigidity and resistance, whereas managing and leading based on values can create a culture of diversity and inclusion.

Simply put, personal values driving work behaviors is also known as “leading by example.”

If you are confident that you can lead by example, but are unsure if your employees can lead based on their own personal values, do not worry. Although it is unlikely that an employee’s personal values will ever change by the time they enter the workforce, it is likely that your employees’ behavior and work habits will change in response to being managed by a values-based decision maker.

Furthermore, according to Starke, the importance of distinguishing between personality traits and values cannot be overlooked when it comes to leadership development. There is a clear connection between personality traits and values, and an even stronger connection to how values can either snuff out, or encourage, innovation.

For example, employees who strongly value security, conformity and tradition (these are known as “conservation” values) are typically not open to change, resulting in little innovation. On the other hand, employees who value stimulation and self-direction are often open to change, which is associated with increased innovation.

Why diversity and inclusion are critical

Diversity and inclusion and leadership development are increasingly becoming critical components of business success, and there is a correlation between poor management and a lack of tolerance for diversity. Understanding how personal values drive work behaviors is tied to creating a diverse, inclusive and highly productive company culture.

If you want your company to become more diverse and inclusive, and simultaneously more productive, then you must unlearn the habit of making decisions based on beliefs and behaviors, rather than values.

Increasing diversity in the workplace has created a new array of world views that requires a nimble learning management initiative. Becoming aware of our own values, and our employees’, is the first step on that path.

Ultimately, employee learning and talent development programs should align with business outcomes both in the workplace and marketplace. To achieve this goal, leaders must begin to teach their employees how to understand everyone that they work with — colleagues, customers and partners — as a core competency.

Understanding our values, as well as others, is a key step to working better with our peers overall. A learning initiative that emphasizes diversity awareness and inclusion training is essential in order to effectively teach this skill set, which can help take your employees to the “next level” of emotional intelligence.