Emtrain Blog

Using Core Values in Workplace Culture to Drive Results

How do savvy business leaders use workplace culture to drive results? They weave culture and values into every aspect of the business - from recruiting to onboarding, to team dynamics and career advancement, or, when necessary, discipline and termination.  When the workplace culture is integrated into the business, it becomes the structure that allows the team and business to grow in a healthy, productive way.

Core values must have power

It all starts with your organization’s core values. These values are not just pithy words on a poster that hang on a wall. The values represent the beliefs and priorities of everyone who is leading and growing the business. The values should be consistent with the mission and purpose of the organization and socialized in such a way that every person in the organization knows them and can restate them, and agrees to adopt them as part of their employee experience. So if they want to work at the company, then they need to embrace those values.  That’s the starting point for integrating your values into the culture.

Once there, your values become a rudder to help make decisions and guide behavior and a shared language to facilitate discussion when actions or decisions start to veer off course.  

In order to build an intentional culture, it should be on display during the recruitment process and successful candidates should be able to describe past experiences where they’ve exhibited one or more of the cultural values. That’s how you determine “culture fit” -- not what school they went to or what sports they play. In onboarding, there should be one or more company leaders talking about the core values and why those are the values that best advance the business goals and mission.

Living core workplace values at every opportunity

Company leaders at all levels should be referencing cultural values on a regular cadence… such as through all hands meetings; fireside chats; Friday happy hours, etc. Whatever the venue, people need to hear the values on a regular basis and how they relate to current business situations or team dynamics -- not in a vacuum as reflected in a corporate training program.  

Eventually, every team is forced to make hard decisions  -- on marketing and sales opportunities; strategy decisions; team and talent decisions; finance decisions, etc. - and when those situations arise, it’s staying consistent with the cultural values that helps steer the business in the right direction. Without a firm anchor, it’s too easy to make a short sighted decision that has long term negative consequences.

By integrating your core values into your workplace culture, you have a shared language you can use to guide behavior and business decisions which the savvy business leaders use to drive good results!

Want to learn more? Join me and Steve Cadigan of Cadigan Talent Ventures on June 7 for an important discussion about how values drive results within a powerful workplace culture. Click here to view the on-demand webinar.

Strong Cultures Produce Strong Results

In the last few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with three remarkable business leaders - Steve Cadigan, who was previously at Linkedin, Dave Mandelbrot, the CEO of Indiegogo and Jon Hicks, employment counsel at Netflix.  I encourage everyone to listen to each of the discussions because they each talked about how a strong culture helps produce strong business results and they gave illustrations of how that concept played out at Linkedin, Indiegogo and Netflix.

At Linkedin, their mission of putting their members first helped steer critical business decisions early in the company history and their strong core values helped them recruit top talent in Silicon Valley, often winning talent away from Apple, Google and Facebook. According to Steve, having core values and a strong culture is like a “true north” that guides the company in times of change.

Indiegogo has FACE - Fearless, Authentic, Collaborative & Empowering as its core values and uses an anonymous employee promoter score (EPS) each month to gauge morale and culture and show employees that leadership cares about their experience and is listening. Indiegogo’s value of being authentic gives everyone in the workforce the green light to give candid feedback and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Lastly, Netflix is … Netflix and it continues to be a culture leader.  The Netflix culture helps determine who joins the company, how people succeed and build their careers there, and how business decisions are made. Ten years after publishing their culture deck, the Netflix culture continues to be a recipe for success.

Everyone will benefit from listening to these business leaders and how a strong culture drives good business results.

Click here to watch my discussion with Steve Cadigan, formerly of Linkedin, as we discuss What Savvy Leaders Know About Culture.

Click here to watch my discussion with Dave Mandelbrot of Indiegogo and Jon Hicks of Netflix.

People Skills Require A Shared Workplace Language

People often believe they have all the knowledge and skills they need to navigate the workplace without conflict … as long as they are a “nice” person. But here’s the deal… other than a few bad eggs… most people are “nice.” That doesn’t mean we understand people and can make the right “people” choices in the moment. People are complicated, which is reflected by the large market of therapists: marital counselors, family counselors, life coaches, etc. Work relationships are often just as impactful as family and romantic relationships, and just like those relationships, they require knowledge and practice to build strong “people” skills, essential when a person wants to support a healthy organization, aka, be a workplace culture keeper. 

Problems arise when you don’t have the knowledge and skills to be a workplace culture keeper, and harassment is one of the biggest problems. But again, people are generally “nice” even when they’re acting in a way that another person perceives as harassing. How is that possible? It’s possible because people generally lack the skills and experience to navigate people issues and can end up disrespecting or offending someone without the intent to do so.

Not all unprofessional behavior constitutes illegal harassment

Our general lack of people skills is exacerbated by the fact that people are not precise when they communicate. People use the term “sexual harassment” to mean all sorts of situations - from managers pressuring subordinates for sex to comments/jokes that reference sex or gender to co-workers or managers that are just plain rude. These are three very different situations, but people use one term to describe all three. That’s neither precise nor good communication.  

Further, calling a situation “sexual harassment” or calling a person a “sexual harasser” is an alarming critique that leads to people getting their backs up; increased emotions; adversarial entrenched positions and circling the wagons to fight claims -- it does not lead to behavior change.  

A shared language provides a platform for understanding

So how do we achieve behavior change? We achieve behavior change through upleveling our knowledge and skills about people issues; using a shared, more precise workplace language so people are using one term to mean a specific type of situation; and lastly, using the shared workplace language in an objective, de-personalized way so feedback about behavior or situations doesn’t trigger emotional responses - it triggers behavior change.

Between Patti Perez (our VP of Workplace Strategy) and myself, we have about 50 years of addressing and solving sexual harassment and bias problems in the workplace. We know what works and what doesn’t. That’s why we created the Workplace Color Spectrum™ to serve as a shared workplace language so a young woman doesn’t have to tell an older male boss he’s a harasser when he keeps touching her back while they walk or he asks about her romantic life or he seems to find opportunities to give her a hug. The guy might be a well meaning space cadet… just ask Patti and I and we can tell you about the hundreds of thousands of well meaning space cadets in our workplaces.  But is the 30-year-old woman really going to tell the 50 year old man he’s a harasser?  NO!  Get real.  But if the organization embraces the Workplace Color Spectrum™ as a shared enterprise language to provide objective feedback on people actions, then the 30-year-old woman may tell her 50-year-old boss he’s a bit in the “orange” that day. If both people understand orange to mean slightly borderline or risky behavior, he’ll get the hint and appreciate the course correction before he creates a workplace problem. Watch our explainer video on The Workplace Color Spectrum™.

It’s naive to think “nice” people intuitively understand people and how to navigate complicated people situations. Working with people requires people skills and skills stem from knowledge and experience. Along with people skills, using a shared workplace language such as the Workplace Color Spectrum™ helps people communicate with precision, in an objective way that avoids conflicts all while changing workplace behavior.

If your organization would benefit from harassment prevention training, request a free course trial today from Emtrain, the CultureTech leader in creating healthy workplace cultures. 

How to Respond to "Orange" Workplace Conduct

If you follow Emtrain’s views on sexual harassment and workplace conduct, you know we believe in color coding conduct as a shared workplace language. People have different views on what is or is not harassment and one person’s “harassment” is another person’s friendly gesture. So you have different perceptions. You also have imprecise language that makes differing perceptions an even bigger challenge to navigate. People say “harassment” imprecisely so it’s pretty common to have a frustrated person call out harassment when in fact, it’s really less than harassment (but still problematic) and the person is simply reacting from emotion and frustration. So the benefit of using a shared workplace language, specifically designed to categorize and describe workplace conduct on a respectful spectrum is a proactive way to anticipate sticky situations and get people communicating effectively, enabling them to course correct and eliminate negative “people” situations that crop up when people work together.  

The Workplace Color Spectrum™

We color code conduct by using our Workplace Color Spectrum™. The Workplace Color Spectrum describes the range of conduct from healthy to toxic: green, yellow, orange and red.  On the green, healthy side of the spectrum, you have people who are showing up to work as their best selves: respectful, ethical, inclusive, empathetic, patient, and a good communicator. We can all be green but it’s unrealistic to think we’re green all the time because it takes work and discipline to be green. Yellow conduct is when we’re less than ideal: not as respectful or patient, our communication isn’t as effective as it could be, etc. Orange conduct refers to when people start bringing in personal characteristics (that are legally protected) into the workplace, such as race, gender, religion, age, national origin, sexual orientation, and others. How is orange conduct brought into the workplace? Typically through jokes or casual conversations with co-workers. Orange conduct injects a note of disrespect and exclusion (an “us versus them” mentality) -- even if it’s a joke that makes people laugh -- using personal characteristics as the basis for the comment or joke shows a lack of respect and courtesy. If left unchecked and orange conduct continues, the situation could turn toxic for people; toxic on our Workplace Color Spectrum™ means a culture with turnover, disrespect, exclusion and the potential for a big loss in employer brand and reputational value (as well as legal violations). (See our video on How to Color Code Workplace Conduct Using the Workplace Color Spectrum™.)

What is the best way to respond to “orange” behavior?

So how do you respond to orange conduct and help course correct? By simply telling the person the comment or joke was a bit orange. You don’t need to be confrontational, angry or emotional.  You identify orange actions in the same way you’d give any other performance feedback; by providing feedback on the ACTIONS rather than criticizing the PERSON. It’s NOT personal because we ALL go orange once in a while. We all engage in an “us versus them” mentality at times; it’s called being human. So tell the person their actions are a bit orange; say it in a nice tone of voice and the person will appreciate your effort at helping them avoid a problem. If everyone in the workplace understands that orange means we’re on a slippery slope to being toxic, then a simple orange callout should be enough to course correct and keep the workplace culture on a good, healthy track. Watch our video Responding to Orange to see real workplace scenarios that teach these principles in an interesting and entertaining way.

Is Bad Training Worse Than No Training?

Post-#MeToo, employers are more confused than ever about whether to provide harassment prevention training. Does it work? Is it a good investment? Will it actually move the needle as it relates to achieving a better understanding of the issues and positively affecting behavior at work? 

Research and experience tells us that the answer to all these questions is YES. But there is a caveat. We know that bad training is bad…so what are some of the steps employers can take to make their training effective?

I recently covered this very topic at this year’s national SHRM conference in Chicago and this article provides an excellent summary of steps to take to maximize the value of your training.

Here are a few more tips:

  1. The research is clear: training that focuses only on legal compliance and on what NOT to do (in other words, fear-based training) is not only ineffective, it can have a backlash effect. If your goal is to scare your employees and leaders into behaving respectfully, you need to reassess those goals. Instead, focus on then positive - what behavior do you expect from your employees? What are the positive consequences to a workplace culture that focuses on clear communication and positive interactions? The more you give your employees a “what’s in it for me” message, the more likely the message will stick.
  2. Carefully select your trainer (for live training) and your training vendor (for online training). The key is to make sure the training is designed and delivered by a true subject matter expert. And while having an understanding of underlying legal principles is important, it isn’t enough. The expert must also have experience drafting and implementing policies, conducting investigations, and doing work to prevent and resolve workplace conflict, including harassment issues. A professional with this experience will do more than check the legal compliance boxes necessary for mandatory training…they will also provide the nuanced and perspective-changing examples that are necessary for a successful training program.
  3. All training, live or online, must be interactive. My presentation provided participants with several examples of interactive activities I use that truly engage the audience, and serve to highlight important learning lessons. One idea is to use a game or activity…I use one called “Two Truths and a Lie” (or some variation). In this activity, you write three nuanced statements and have participants identify which two are true, and which one is false - and you ask them to provide an explanation as to WHY the statement is true or false. I also reach into my bucket of stories about investigations. I give participants a brief description of the facts from an investigation and give learners a multiple choice “test” to see if they can guess what happens next. This one really sparks conversation and interactivity!

The key is to have a goal in mind, plan intentionally, be creative and have fun. By using this “formula” you’ll not only educate your employees about acceptable and unacceptable behavior, you’ll also make a usually-dreaded event become one they look forward to attending. For even more insight into creating effective training, check out this video that outlines the most effective online training approaches, and discusses how to develop and deploy training that will really create positive organizational change.