If yours is like most credit unions, you have a set of core values. Unfortunately, if you’re like most companies (credit unions and otherwise) these core values eventually devolve to not much more than words on a website. Typically introduced with great fanfare, core values are eventually forgotten and left unattended to wilt like a tomato plant in the summer heat. Somewhere along the way, the idea of using core values for their intended purpose gets lost. The power of core values is in their daily use, not just occasionally reviewing them at an all-staff meeting. That’s like buying good china and leaving it on display in the curio cabinet except for those special occasions. When everyone in the credit union is living them, core values are a cornerstone of a thriving culture.
The true purpose of core values is to serve as anchor points for behavior. Core values answer the question, “How should I behave at the credit union?” While each of us is a unique individual, core values point to the common elements among us. Let’s say, for example, that one of your credit union’s core values is Give the gift of presence, which means focus on the person in front of you, be attentive and avoid distractions. This is a clear message, so when you’re in a meeting with someone, you shouldn’t be checking email or responding to text messages. Instead, you should give your colleague the courtesy of your full attention. Your credit union can have all the artifacts in the world, but if employees ignore this core value, action needs to be taken to better align everyone’s behavior.
The question is, how do you make your core values valuable? What steps can you take to put them into action on a daily basis? The answer lies in your leadership. Leaders, who are the culture-carriers in an organization, need to drive the effective application of core values by doing four things:
- Model the values. First and foundationally, leaders need to model the credit union’s core values. Acting in accordance with the core values shows all employees how meaningful they are. If the CEO has her phone on silent and her laptop screen down during a meeting, that sends a message. Conversely, if the CEO is constantly checking her phone during a meeting, that shows that the core values have zero importance. I once worked with a leader who had a basket at the door of the company conference room. When everyone entered for a meeting, they’d put their phones in the basket to be collected on the way out of the conference room. It might sound extreme, but it kept everyone involved and led to a more productive meeting.
- Make the values a centerpiece in conversation. Next, leaders need to bring the core values to life by talking about them. The energy of employees follows the attention of the leader. Leaders can use various meetings to talk through the importance of core values as well as illustrate what they look like in action. Talking about the core values “operationalizes” them so everyone has a clear understanding of how to behave in accordance with them. If you don’t do it, consider having the core values as a recurring agenda item at team meetings or at one-on-one meetings. This investment of time can pay huge dividends.
- Praise values in action. Leaders must praise the use of core values. When employees live the core values, managers need to recognize this by praising the employee’s effort. Using our earlier example, if a meeting takes place and an employee never looks at his phone or computer, but rather, remains focused on his colleague, the manager should praise how he exemplified the core value of Give the gift of presence. This positive reinforcement goes a long way toward having the employee repeat the desired behavior.
- Take opportunities to coach if values aren’t being utilized. On the other hand, if an employee fails to uphold a core value, the manager must act quickly to work with the employee to bring her behavior in line. Continuing with the example, if an employee is constantly looking at her phone during a meeting, the manager needs to bring this to the employee’s attention. The manager should enter the conversation by giving the employee the benefit of the doubt while focusing on how the employee will handle the situation the next time.
Core values aren’t just words of wisdom to hang in a frame and display on the wall. They are a mighty tool to help you build a great culture within your credit union. Follow these steps to truly embrace the value of your values. When you tend to them, nurture them and watch them blossom, your credit union will thrive as well.
Joe Bertotto has more than three decades of experience helping leaders improve their workplace cultures. He is the chief culture officer at Vizo Financial Corporate Credit Union and a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach. In 2014, Joe was named a Credit Union Rock Star by Credit Union Magazine. He also recently published his book, Pick Up the Gum Wrapper: How To Create a Workplace That Increases Performance While Improving Lives, which credit union leaders have been using as a guide to increase the effectiveness of their leadership skills and overall culture.