The following is the Introduction found in my new book, ‘Bringing Your Values Out to Play’,
”Houston, we have a problem” is probably the most famous sentence ever spoken in space, coming from the radio communications between the Apollo 13 crew and the NASA mission control center. I’d like to borrow this powerful phrase, because we, too, have a problem!
The problem is that although the majority of companies have published values, data from Gallup shows that only 27 percent of employees strongly believe in them, and only 23 percent of employees strongly agree they can apply their organization’s values to their work. That’s three out of four employees who don’t believe in and/or don’t use their company values as they go about their work, taking actions and making decisions that ultimately impact the success of their company.
So why is this a problem? Why should it matter that values are not playing a role in how employees are working? To answer this, let’s go back to the Apollo 13 story, where the problem they faced was returning their astronauts safely to Earth after an oxygen tank exploded. They overcame horrific challenges to safely return their astronauts, achieving this happy ending because everyone at NASA worked together, doing so by not only understanding their values, but applying them in every decision and action they made.
In this real-life situation their values of being team-oriented: coming together to solve complex issues, being agile: working in ambiguous environments, and being resilient: not giving up were ultimately the difference between life and death for their three astronauts! And, by the way, I’m absolutely confident that the values weren’t listed in a manual or hung up on the walls of the spacecraft – instead, they were intrinsic to each and every employee at NASA, in space and on the ground!
But surely this only happens in space travel, values can’t have such an important role to play in the “normal” business world. Wrong! Jim Collins and Jerry Porras conducted an extensive six-year research project which found that visionary and exceptional companies were all guided by a core ideology, core values and a sense of purpose that are beyond just making money. In Built to Last they write that “A deeply held core ideology gives a company both a strong sense of identify and thread of continuity that holds the organization together.” They believed so much in the importance of values, that they are one of the six “timeline fundamentals” suggested to organizations in order to build their own visionary and successful company.
So if values are strategic tools required of businesses, what can we do to make our employees understand and apply them? The answer is to start by admitting that the problem is actually not with our employees, but with us! The Gallup data clearly shows that the majority of companies:
- Don’t have the “right” values, ones that truly describe and guide their workforce to achieve their mission, helping them understand what behaviors are to be applied in good times and in bad.
- Don’t fully operationalize their values, embedding and weaving them into everything they do, being so much a part of how they operate that even if they were nowhere in sight, their employees would know, believe in, and live them in their behaviors and actions.
“If you’re not going to take the time to translate values from ideals to behaviors—if you’re not going to teach people the skills they need to show up in a way that’s aligned with those values and then create a culture in which you hold one another accountable for staying aligned with the values—it’s better not to profess any values at all. They become a joke. A cat poster. Total BS.” – Brené Brown, researcher and author, Dare to Lead
But all is not lost, for there are ways to overcome these problems. Over my 20 plus years as a Human Resources Leader and now as a writer, speaker and consultant, I’ve worked at, or have met companies who are getting it right. They’re changing the statistics at their company, and achieving their mission and purpose through their people applying and living their values.
And this is exactly why I’ve written this book, to share the tips, tools and stories I’ve lived, learned or collected from others through my research and consulting, so that every company can benefit from the power of values, using them as an integral part of their wider engagement strategy. Do this, and you’ll have an engaged workforce that uses your strategic values to guide them to achieve your mission . . . even if you have a challenge like they did on Apollo 13!
Before you begin your values “journey”, which is a term I’ll use throughout the book to signify that you’ll be taking many small and big steps to get to your destination, let me share a few things about the book to help you and get you on your way:
You don’t have to read the book front to back.
Although the order of the chapters is somewhat sequential, you certainly don’t need to follow them in numerical order. Depending on where you are in your values journey and processes, feel free to dip into chapters (and plays) at different times and for different reasons. In fact, I hope you use it this way to refer to and inspire you not just once, but whenever the need may arise.
Use the book as a playbook.
This book is not a textbook, it is not a reference book, it is a playbook.
This means that just as a sports playbook includes strategies and approaches to get things done, this book is packed with a variety of approaches, techniques and tips to help you get things done. Use it like a playbook – scribble in it, draw in it, rip pages out of it, have fun with it!
Be inspired by the plays.
This book, like my last book, is jam packed with stories, or what I call plays. They are intended to inspire and inform you by sharing how other companies have discovered, embedded and live their values. I absolutely loved interviewing all of the companies, and I’m certain you’ll love reading the plays, walking away with tons of ideas.
There are 39 plays (stories) making up the second half of the book. They come from a variety of companies from different countries and from different industries, including Atlassian (Australia – Technology/Software), Blue Lagoon Iceland (Iceland – Hospitality), DaVita (US – Healthcare), Decathlon (France – Retailer), Deloitte (Australia – Professional Services), Dishoom (UK – Restaurant), LEGO Group (Denmark – Toys), WD-40 (US – Manufacturer), and Zappos (US – Retailer).
Go out and play with your values.
The title of this book, and the concept of “playing with your values” came to me partly because of my approach to sharing stories through my plays, and partly through reading Nikki Gatenby’s book, Superengaged where she has a section header saying “Bring your values out to play”. This concept resonates with me, and hopefully with you, for playing is such a powerful and effective way to learn and grow. If we can bring this into the workplace when it comes to our values, think of the magic that will happen!
As Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher and writer, once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So with that being said, let’s take our first step together!
This book can be purchased through Amazon and other retailers.
About the author:
Debra Corey is a highly experienced and award-winning HR leader, world-class speaker, three-time author, and was recently named one of the top 101 global employee engagement influencers. She’s had a varied career, working for global companies such as Gap Inc., Honeywell, Merlin Entertainments and Reward Gateway, where she’s developed and delivered HR strategies in a rebellious way, pushing the boundaries and challenging the status quo to truly drive employee engagement. In 2019 Debra founded her own company as Chief Pay It Forward Officer, where she’s inspiring and helping others to bring out their inner rebel and drive business change.
Over the course of her career, Debra has been fuelling the employee engagement rebelution through a variety of ways, including speaking at events and leading workshops around the world, teaching professional courses and writing.
An accomplished author, Debra has published three books, the first one about employee communication strategy and best practice (“Effective HR Communication: A Framework for Communicating HR Programs with Impact”), the second one which talks about why and how to be an engagement rebel (“Build it: A Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement”), and her latest book which focuses on company values as a strategic and effective business tool (“Bringing Your Values Out to Play”).