Published in Nov/Dec 2020
Picture an organization where each employee only focuses on themselves. In their day-to-day work, everyone completes the bare minimum, employees do not consider solutions to their problems and there are no benefits for delivering excellence in their work. What kind of culture is this? How frustrated would you be in your workplace? What would employee morale look like?
Compare this to an organization where employees anticipate the needs of others, invest in one another, seek solutions to their problems and deliver excellence in everything they do. What kind of culture is this? What would morale look like in this organization?
Culture begins with relationships. In organizations where relationships lack trust, communication and direction, the culture produces an environment that is difficult to function in. When we think of an organization, we must remember that it is simply a group of people who choose to work in the same location to accomplish a shared mission. Simply put, culture is defined and created by people. We can create positive workplace cultures by adopting a beyond-service mindset. Acting in ways that support our peers will develop meaningful relationships and allow key elements like trust, communication and respect to flourish.
In 2018, the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) embarked on a values-based culture journey to solidify its direction as an organization. Under the guidance of the organization’s chief people officer, employees were invited to participate in a values-based culture summit where they were tasked with identifying the values and behaviors they felt would unify the university. At the conclusion of the summit, over 90 listening sessions were facilitated, so all employees could engage in the development of our values-based culture. From this process, five values and 23 behaviors were defined as the pillars that allow us to live the vision of transforming health care through innovation and collaboration. Of the five values identified, going beyond service aspires to create and deliver positive defining moments by:
- Anticipating the needs of each individual and responding with a generous heart.
- Investing in the well-being, safety and success of all by going the extra mile.
- Being solution-oriented, and creating the pathway to win-win resolutions.
- Delivering excellence in everything we do.
Living beyond service at the TTUHSC has created many examples of employees going above and beyond for their peers. Recently, a supervisor reached out to the training department requesting assistance with fostering greater accountability among their team. Initially, the supervisor requested the development of a tool they could use. However, instead of providing a single tool and wishing the supervisor well, the training team anticipated the needs of this leader and not only provided a tool but created a series of training solutions. As the supervisor delivered the solutions to their team, the training team stayed in regular contact, taking on a coaching role. The beyond-service value was demonstrated by the training team’s investment in the supervisor and team. They remained solution-oriented and delivered excellence, allowing their influence to grow throughout the organization.
Living Your Values
As a learning and development (L&D) professional, you play an important role in bringing organizational values to life. Defining the values of your organization requires terminology that aligns with your industry and organization. We all bring our own perspectives and expectations to the workplace. Often, we assume that employees view an action or behavior the same way we do. When we don’t see a behavior enacted the way we assume it should be, conflict can emerge. To avoid this, it is important to establish a shared understanding of what it looks like to live beyond service. The first step is identifying key words that define living beyond service for your organization.
At the TTUHSC, we used the following keywords:
We then developed a shared understanding by focusing on each keyword, asking employees within departments and teams to answer the following questions:
- Anticipate: What does it look like to anticipate the needs of others on our team?
- Invest: As an individual or team, how can we invest in the well-being of each other?
- Solution-oriented: How will we challenge each other to remain focused on solutions?
- Excellence: What does excellence look like to us? How will we know we have delivered excellence in our actions?
Then, a summary document was provided to each participant. The answers provided defined key behaviors the team felt would help them live the beyond-service value. The team then revisited this list on a monthly basis to check in and discuss whether any changes were necessary. With an activity like this, trial and error is acceptable, as long as teams can agree to be open to change.
Impact of Going Beyond Service on Leadership
For the past 30 years, research has shown that shared values within an organization lead to improved organizational citizenship behaviors. However, to achieve this, organizations need acceptance from all levels. As with any implementation, if there is not support at all levels, the failure rate increases.
When it comes to values, it is equally important to gain buy-in at all levels. Establishing cascading behaviors is an effective strategy for gaining this support. For example, let’s use the value statement from the TTUHSC beyond-service value: Create and deliver positive defining moments. The intent of cascading behaviors is to identify how you and your teams will enact established values. At a department level, how will we act to create positive defining moments in the work we do? As a team, how will we act to create positive and defining moments? As an employee, what behaviors will lead to positive defining moments?
With this activity, we acknowledge that not all behaviors will be applicable at all levels. Instead of trying to force behavior, provide employees an opportunity to own how they will practice going beyond service. This will eliminate questions regarding how to accomplish a behavior that has been assigned to them rather than created by them.
Impact of Going Beyond Service on L&D Professionals
As L&D professionals, there are multiple methods to encourage and foster a beyond-service culture:
- When designing instructor-led training, consider ways you can incorporate the value into the topic at hand. For example, when discussing servant leadership, ask employees how can they use that framework to develop a beyond-service mindset? This will provide employees an opportunity to connect personally with the topic.
- When designing eLearning, how can you incorporate going beyond service in training scenarios and questions? For example, in eLearning around de-escalation techniques, provide scenarios that demonstrate how responding, rather than reacting, is an example of living beyond service.
- When coaching a leader or team on holding difficult conversations, how can you connect the tools being taught to going beyond service? For example, the tool used at the TTUHSC was modified to include a step-by-step conversation planner, including key behavior reminders and illustrating how each step connects to organizational values.
Leveraging these examples, L&D professionals can guide employees to enact the values of the organization and keep them alive. We all play a role in the organizations we serve. We all decide the impact we have within our organizations. Living beyond service is one way that employees, regardless of their level, can create and deliver positive defining moments.
In times of change, as we’re experiencing in the COVID-19 pandemic, organizational culture is important to achieving long-term business success. Leaders have the opportunity to seek insight from their employees to ensure the vision and values of the organization are aligned. By engaging our employees in identifying values and defining behaviors that empower them to bring those values to life in their day-to-day work, we create the opportunity to increase employee engagement as we navigate the changes ahead of us.