This is an unprecedented time, and we are returning to a new normal.

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve heard those two phrases almost every day in one sense or another over the last few months. Throughout this time, I’ve been paying close attention to organizations and how they are leaning in or out with their values and connecting to their people. It’s been amazing to see how some organizations have brought their values to life in unique ways that will be remembered well.

Researcher and author Dr. Brené Brown defines a “value” as “a way of being or believing that we hold most important” and shares that “living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them.” While the press has highlighted a lot of organizations that have not lived into their values during the COVID-19 pandemic, let’s look at one organization that has lived its values wholeheartedly, as well as how you can work with your teams and organization to ensure that values are more than words on a piece of paper.

Student Maid is a cleaning and concierge service dedicated to empowering the rising generation of leaders. Its founder, Kristen Hadeed, shared her story in her book, “Permission to Screw Up: How I Learned to Lead by Doing (Almost) Everything Wrong.” The company has worked to ensure that its core values are more than words on a wall and are also a guide for employees to make decisions, both big and small.

Here are Student Maid’s core values:

    • Pay it forward.
    • Jump through flaming hoops.
    • Unleash the creative dragon within.
    • Speak now or forever hold your peace.
    • Keep it classy not sassy.
    • Raise the roof.
    • Own it.
    • Roll with the punches.
    • Take your moral fiber.
    • Don’t leave us hanging.

When COVID-19 hit the U.S., Hadeed and her leadership team lived their values of unleashing the creative dragon within and rolling with the punches by continuing to pay all team members while the company closed its doors for their safety. Hadeed had regularly shared in her talks, interviews and writings that in her company, people come first. As a result, she and her team worked to find a way to pay their employees during this unexpected turn of events. Hadeed immediately applied for every disaster loan or grant she could, while her team members came up with creative ways to keep revenue streams flowing.

Connecting Values to Action

How do you keep creative discussion connected to action and hold your team accountable to your values? It’s important to talk regularly with your team and your partners to gauge and bring forward examples of how you are living your values. Are you going beyond discussions and thought experiments and into action? If not, is it because of a lack of accountability? Is there a process to ensure that you routinely discuss your values and capture examples when they are lived out? It is important to document these processes and evaluate whether they are working. If they aren’t working well in times of “business as usual,” how will they hold firm in times of uncertainty?

This process could be a quarterly standing meeting or a standard topic included in huddle discussions. Measure whether it’s working by, for example, capturing how many thought experiments occur and how many of them turn into action. This process takes time, but our values should be important enough that we are OK taking that time.

The value of “keep it classy not sassy” was on full display when Hadeed found out there was a clerical error with one of the disaster loans the company was supposed to receive from a bank. Student Maid was given $50,000 more than it was supposed to and could have fought the bank on it, giving the employee who had to call Hadeed and share the mistake a hard time. Instead, Hadeed practiced empathy, remembering another human being was on the other end of the phone call.

Offering Training on Organizational Values

When Hadeed and her leadership team made the decision to close the business and continue to pay employees, they thought it’d be for two weeks. It ended up being two months. During this time, they stayed connected to employees with weekly company-wide virtual meetings and worked to maintain trust by being transparent. When it came time to reopen, they gave every team member the choice to return to work, empowering them to live the value of “speak now or forever hold your peace.”

While most people easily understand a value, understanding doesn’t necessarily mean application. Taking the first step to talk openly with your team is great, but it is important to provide opportunities for reflection and exercises to help employees wanting to grow to do so. Take time to evaluate how learning about values happens at the individual, team and organizational levels. Ensuring that employees live out your organizational values may require offering a resource guide with exercises or a team workshop.

Embedding trust into your values helps make it easy for employees to live them. Help team members think about how they communicate in ways that reflect the organization’s values. They provide a foundation to start from when making difficult decisions. This approach to work doesn’t usually happen by chance; it must be role-modeled. How can you help ensure that the people you serve can see the connections between what they are doing, why they are doing it and how it helps embody the culture the organization is striving for?

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Hadeed and her leadership team have set an example for other leaders and companies on how to look at the future with a long-term commitment rather than a shortsighted approach. They haven’t done what is easy, what is fast or what is comfortable. The rubber didn’t just meet the road when it came to their values; it was torn, tattered and full of wear, and Kirsten Hadeed and her team stepped up and let their values shine.

Take some time to reflect on your values today. How are you modeling them every day? How are you ensuring that they aren’t simply words you are professing but actions you are taking? How are you leaning in when it’s easier to step away? How have you provided tools, processes and touch points to ensure that your organization’s values are alive and thriving because its people understand how to go beyond talk?

Encourage courage and inspire action in the way you lead the way with your values. Help bring your organization’s values to life, and remember the example of companies like Student Maid that have shown us that even in the hardest of times, we can live our values without wavering.

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