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To Promote Values, Preach What You Practice
March 2014

That's right, preach what you practice. The old cliché says "practice what you preach," but we need to turn that around to illustrate a point about values: You must do everything to give employees a clear sense of your values, because your values are the company values.

When I'm working with management teams to clarify their values, occasionally, at the beginning of the discussion, one of the managers says, "What values?"

The implication is that the person doesn't know which values govern the operation of the company. Or, worse yet, this person might believe that the company has no values. Sometimes the person doesn't understand what we mean by "values."

Values are simply those core principles or beliefs that are reflected in how the company conducts business. We can think of lots of values. Integrity is a value, as is exceeding customer expectations. Treating employees fairly is another value.

Not all values are good. When profit above all else is the value, or winning at any cost, companies cut corners, and start crossing the line between ethical and unethical behavior, between honesty and dishonesty, between legal and illegal behavior. Think Enron on steroids.

So we want to concentrate on good values, such as honesty, hard work, giving back to the community. Values are important because they guide people when tough decisions come up.

You as leaders, and in turn your employees, must clearly understand these values, if you want the employees more engaged in their work, more committed to company goals, and more productive in their jobs. All of that will lead to greater profitability.

Often, the values are practiced, but not necessarily preached.

For instance, I'm working with a company where I interviewed a cross section of employees and managers, and several identified one great aspect of the company is that they are very ethical. They always do what's right for the customer.

But the leaders of this company may not be going around preaching this value. It could be that employees pick it up from observing the behavior of the leaders. Employees learn values from you, the leaders, by watching what you do and how you handle difficult situations.

That's the "practice" part of "preach what you practice." And that's fine, but adding preaching to practice gives the values more strength.

Let's talk about the "preach" part. You should emphasize these values by talking explicitly and specifically about them. Better yet, take a page out of the big companies' playbook, and write a values statement.

A values statement serves the same function as a purpose statement, or vision statement. It codifies and provides emphasis for something that is often unspoken and taken for granted.

Writing it forces you to think about it, and leaves nothing to chance. Once you've written them, you must continue to preach those values.

Communicate your values relentlessly, preach them in meetings, and when talking to people informally. Emphasize these values in your written communications. No more wondering if employees understand the values.

Then when your preaching and practice are consistent, employees will internalize your values, live by them, and work harder to exemplify them.

Let's abuse another cliché, "actions speak louder than words." True, but I believe that actions AND words together speak louder than either one by itself.

What are YOUR values? How clearly are they understood by your employees? How do you know they're understood? Do YOU preach what you practice?