Want greater integrity? Put core values into action

Karen Natzel, BridgeTower Media Newswires

As our country grapples with a post-election political divide, and families and friends try to reconcile their differences, I wonder how we will move forward. What are our country’s guiding principles? What defines us as a nation?

At the organizational level, I regularly tackle these questions with business leaders. And I confess, sometimes I wonder whether this conversation of core values really matters. Do we do anything with them besides post them on our websites, in our lunch rooms, in our employee handbooks, or profess them to our prospective clients or new hires?

Ultimately, I decided, the only way to make core values meaningful is to live by them. That’s integrity. Whether values are at the national, organizational or the very personal level – they can serve as a driving force for living a congruent life. By definition, a more congruent life is more harmonious – and, I would contend, simplified (not to be confused with easy).

Drivers of a brand

Business leaders set the tone of their organizations. What they think, say and do – or don’t do – shape a culture that influences performance. Regardless if a leader helped define the organization’s core values or if they were inherited, these principles fuel attitudes, behaviors, actions and decision-making. They are meant to align the team under one umbrella and define the members collectively. Core values become a professional brand; a promise to conduct business together with these principles will guide the team. These values set the bar for behavioral expectations and the experience of the brand.

Core values in action

When something pertaining to my clients is off the mark and doesn’t appear to be getting back on track, I tell them to “declare a breakdown.” That simply means naming what’s not working. Call a timeout. Don’t point fingers or assign blame, but rather reflect and recalibrate. When a breakdown occurs, an organization’s shared values can serve as a powerful way to realign the team.

Perhaps the most consistently named core value is “respect.” Who can argue with that?! During a client’s Culture Building Taskforce meeting, we reviewed their stated core values. When we came to “respect,” I asked the team members, “What does respect mean to you?” They struggled to answer, until I posed the question differently by asking, “How do you feel respected?” They immediately had strong reactions – almost unanimously explaining that they felt respected when their opinion was sought out and heard!

One of my professional values is to “maintain integrity in the conversation.” During a difficult conversation with a client, I found myself holding back. I was skirting around the issue. As soon as I realized this, I said to him, “Hold on. Can we hit the reset button? I’m not being terribly clear about my feedback.” Ironically, in my attempt to be respectful, I was actually disrespecting his capacity to handle it. The moral of the story? If respect is a core value for you, clearly identify what it means to you and those with whom you interact, and exactly what it looks like in application.

What about diversity? Collaboration? If these values resonate with you, consider the following Facebook post issued by world-renowned rock climber and instructor Arno Ilgner in response to a contentious comment: “… unfortunately, it seems that each of us are more interested in proving we’re right than listening to opposing views … being “level headed” is about having the willingness to create discussions that cause conflict within each of us, and the courage to be uncomfortable within each of us, and the courage to be uncomfortable with opposing views.” Ilgner presents a compellingly clear value of courage.

If we value diversity, respect and collaboration, and if we believe that relationships matter, then how we approach dissenting opinions and conflict should reflect those values. In other words, our values provide us with the framework for how to engage. In fact, if we are truly embracing our values, they should dictate our engagement.

To do

Take a personal inventory. List the top 10 things you value most. The items on your list shouldn’t be “shoulds;” instead you want them to inspire and resonate with you. Once you have your top 10, cull your top five.
Now, whittle them down to your top three. Reflect on the places in your life that these things show up. For example, I value connection. It might show up in an engaging conversation with a stranger or over coffee with a cherished friend. I find that true connection requires authenticity, which demands a bit of vulnerability. By placing connection as a top value, I am more willing to work through the issues that inevitably arise in relationships.

Examine your organization’s core values. At your next team meeting, encourage a robust dialogue about what the defined core values really mean to each of you. Then, individually commit to putting a value into practice. At the following meeting, ask each other how successfully you lived that core value. Keep the discussion alive in meetings, performance management, the hiring process, and in the delivery of services to both internal and external customers. Make your core values your standard operating procedure.

Provide contextual feedback. If one of your organization’s core values is “problem solving,” and a team member brought an issue to your attention with a suggested resolution, consider specifically thanking him/her for identifying the problem and proactively generating a solution. By giving feedback in the context of your core values, you reinforce your expectations about what it means to walk the talk.

Core values are NOT meant as a marketing tool. They are not meant as some kind of politically correct statement about what your organization should be or what’s trending today. They can and should serve as an aligning, inspiring and course-defining path for showing up in this world.

Go forth and make your core values meaningful! Lead in a way that is congruent with your values; your organization’s health and integrity requires it!


Karen Natzel is a business therapist who helps leaders create healthy, vibrant and high-performing organizations. Contact her at 503-806-4361 or rx@biztherapy.biz.