How to Promote Core Values in the Workplace: Full Guide

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive" by Patrick Lencioni. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Want to know how to promote core values in the workplace? How can you build and communicate a system of values in your organization?

Considering the benefits of well-defined core values, it can be tempting to simply dictate values to your staff, says Patrick Lencioni. However, employees struggle to embrace assigned values. Lencioni advises you to instead identify the values that employees already strive for and turn them into official policy.

Keep reading to learn how to promote core values in the workplace, according to Lencioni’s advice.

Promoting Core Values in the Workplace

According to entrepreneur, author, and speaker Patrick Lencioni, once your organization’s core values have been identified, your next objective is to determine how to promote the core values in the workplace. Promoting core values throughout your entire organization is the ongoing process of getting your employees to embrace your values. Successful promotion of core values improves performance by allowing each employee to connect their role to the big picture. Additionally, Lencioni believes individual employees who have internalized core values are more motivated and more likely to stick with an organization through hard times. 

(Shortform note: Experts agree that promoting core values throughout your organization helps increase productivity and morale. Additionally, they specify that it’s best to promote your core values early in the organization’s history, while the team is still relatively small. While promoting core values is an ongoing process, starting that process as soon as possible ensures that your values influence your organization’s growth.)

In describing how to promote core values in the workplace, the first technique Lencioni offers is repetition. While it may seem counterintuitive, repeating values ad nauseam actually increases retention—people need to hear an idea many times in order to fully internalize it. Especially in modern workplaces, where employees receive a near-constant stream of information from Slack, email, and social media, your job is to make sure each member of your team has many opportunities to absorb important information.

Communicate Your Core Values Simply

Repetition alone might not be enough to ensure that employees internalize your message. In addition to repetition, experts recommend that keeping your messaging simple helps improve employee retention. Specifically, stick to one value per communication, and keep phrasing consistent across each instance of communication. If you find you need to communicate in more detail, limit yourself to a maximum of three sub-points.

Simple messaging helps counteract the effects of information overload. Information overload occurs when you receive a high volume of low-quality information and results in fatigue, confusion, and sometimes anger. Employees in contemporary workplaces are at especially high risk for information overload. Keeping your communication simple helps prevent overload and protects employee morale.

Along with repetition, Lencioni advises you to communicate core values across a variety of media, including both traditional tools such as face-to-face meetings as well as more modern options, like company-wide email bulletins. This is necessary because individuals have unique learning and communication styles—different people communicate differently. 

For example, suppose you have a friend who moved to a rural area with the intent of “getting off the grid,” and you’d like to find the best way to keep in touch with them. Given your friend’s disdain for technology, you probably wouldn’t have much success trying to contact them via email or social media. Instead, knowing how your friend communicates, you’d take the time to write a letter, or better yet, visit them in person.

(Shortform note: Using a wide variety of media is a strong strategy because new communication technologies offer specific advantages. For example, one study found that on average, people spend 140% as much time on web pages with video as compared to pages with text only. This increased engagement can help your communications get through to your staff. Similarly, tools like Slack can help your team communicate more efficiently—teams using Slack respond to each other more quickly and close more deals. Making use of a range of new tools like these allows you to bring their unique advantages to your team.)

How to Promote Core Values in Workplace Systems

To promote core values in the workplace, Lencioni’s next step is to build your values into the systems that shape your organization’s daily life. When your organization is able to successfully incorporate its values into its systems, it will hire the right people, promote the right people, and fire the right people when necessary. According to Lencioni, this results in high morale and a competitive advantage in terms of acquiring and keeping talent. Moving forward, we’ll discuss how to incorporate your core values into your hiring process, your performance management, and your firing process.

(Shortform note: Data supports Lencioni’s assertion that core values should play a major role in personnel decisions. According to a 2021 survey, 44% of millennials and 49% of Gen Z participants reported making career decisions based on values. Incorporating core values into your human systems allows you to speak to the massive segment of the workforce who prioritize values. Without strong core values, many of these individuals will leave your organization, and some will be discouraged from applying in the first place.)

Strategies for Building Values Into Hiring Procedures

To promote core values in the workplace, it’s also important to determine how to build them into your organization’s hiring procedures. At the front end of this process is values-based hiring. Successful organizations will always have plenty of qualified candidates for open positions—hiring based on core values gives you a surefire way to choose between them. And, according to Lencioni, a candidate’s alignment with your organization’s core values is a much better indicator of their potential than their résumé.

Additionally, Lencioni believes potential candidates should be interviewed by as many members of your team as possible, both to assess their values and to determine how well candidates gel with each member of your team. In addition to this, as previously suggested, you should spend a few hours each week with new employees, monitoring their progress, answering questions, and using repetition to ensure new hires have many opportunities to absorb core values.

(Shortform note: While experts agree that conducting interviews with multiple team members is a great way to assess a candidate’s cultural fit, they also caution that having too many interviews creates a slow and inefficient process that can be discouraging to candidates. Including just a few interviewers is often enough to cover individual blind spots.)

Reduce Confirmation Bias in Hiring

One potential pitfall of Lencioni’s values-based hiring process is the possibility for confirmation bias to come into play. Confirmation bias occurs when you interpret new information in a way that reinforces pre-existing beliefs.

For example, suppose that because your company values work ethic, you’re encouraged to select candidates who are hard workers. In particular, you interview a candidate who really wins you over. They mention taking pride in frequently having stayed late at their previous job, even when their “lazier” peers had gone home. Because of your belief that this person is a hard worker, you interpret this as more evidence of their determination, instead of scrutinizing the negative way they talk about their coworkers. In this scenario, your confirmation bias gives you an incomplete view of the candidate and could damage your company’s culture should their harsh speech turn out to be part of a broader pattern of cutthroat behavior. 

Rich’s interview strategies from the parable can also be susceptible to confirmation bias. While asking primarily personal questions can be a useful tool for determining a candidate’s values, it leaves room for your personal opinion of a candidate to color your judgment about their fit with the organization.

To reduce the effect of confirmation bias in hiring, experts recommend asking negatively framed questions (“What’s your biggest weakness?”). Asking these kinds of questions can give you a more complete view of a candidate, including their shortcomings. Additionally, you can reach out to previous coworkers who candidates had not listed as references in order to get more objective opinions.

Another possible strategy for eliminating bias is conducting blind résumé reviews. Reviewing résumés without any identifying information attached helps maintain objectivity and protects you from making costly hiring mistakes due to bias.

Strategies for Building Values Into Performance Reviews

Just like how you promoted core values in your hiring processes, your workplace performance reviews should also be values-based. According to Lencioni, assessing whether or not an employee is embracing an organization’s core values is even more important than measuring their performance. Employees who struggle to produce are likely not fitting into company culture, and helping them to do so often leads to better performance. On the other hand, consider promoting employees who strongly align with company values as they are often top producers.

According to Lencioni, performance reviews should be free of dry questionnaires and quantitative judgments. Your reviews should focus on actionables—employees should walk away with a clear sense of what needs to be done to better align with the team’s core values. Additionally, you should offer feedback continuously, not just during scheduled reviews. Your employees should never feel confused about their roles in your organization.

Reduce Bias in Employee Evaluation

Lencioni argues that review processes without objective performance measures can help you focus on values. However, subjective strategies may be more susceptible to being influenced by reviewer bias.

For example, one study found that race and leadership status significantly affected performance reviews, even when all employees had made similar mistakes. Allowing these kinds of bias to influence performance reviews can lead to poor personnel decisions and in extreme cases can put your company at risk for a lawsuit.

Experts recommend two strategies for eliminating bias in employee evaluations. First, review materials should require managers to provide multiple pieces of evidence for each point of assessment. Second, managers should be thoroughly trained in using these new evidence-based materials. Requiring that reviewers support their claims with evidence introduces a level of objectivity while still allowing for reviews that focus on core values.

Additionally, you should set clear goals for each employee. As long as these goals are aligned with your core values, you’ll have a more objective measure of both performance and values, which will help mitigate reviewer bias.

Strategies for Building Values Into Firing Decisions

Like hiring and performance reviews, your firing decisions should be values-based. When firing decisions are based solely on performance, you risk allowing negative individuals to slip through the cracks. So, it’s important to determine how to promote core values even when making firing decisions at the workplace.

For example, imagine that you’re on a high school basketball team and one of your teammates is 6’6” and a gifted scorer. However, the same teammate constantly brings down team morale: He’s lazy at practice, hogs the ball during games, and talks trash to his teammates afterward. A coaching staff in sync with the four obsessions would recognize the player’s negative impact. They’d decide to bench him or remove him from the team in spite of his natural ability.

(Shortform note: In addition to helping you make the right firing decisions, values-based firing may also help reinforce your core values throughout your organization. Experts say that firing people over values violations demonstrates to the rest of the team that you’re serious about values. Demonstrating your commitment to values in firing decisions encourages the rest of the staff to take core values seriously.)

How to Promote Core Values in the Workplace: Full Guide

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Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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