Just about every organization will have respect, in one form or another, as one of their espoused values. We are told that a respectful workplace is one where all employees are treated fairly, diversity is acknowledged and valued, communication is open and civil, conflict is addressed early, and there is a culture of empowerment and cooperation. This all sounds wonderful, but there still remains far too much bullying, intimidation, and incivility in workplaces where people spend much of their lives.
So what is your process of ensuring that the value of respect is actually manifested in your culture? Respect is one of those platitudes that receive a great deal of attention, but are you ensuring that it is actually lived – both at work and in your family?
I have a passion for accountability and below is a suggested process for holding yourself and others accountable for living any value that you wish to instill in your organization. I’ll use respect as an example.
Step 1. State your intent. When I open a workshop I make it very clear that respect is a value that I hold to be vitally important in my work. I then state that if anyone perceives in any way that I am not respectful of any person within the group, they can call me out on it – either personally or publicly. As a positional leader, you have to lead the way to make your intention clear. You set the tone. You must model the way.
Step 2. Turn values into behaviors. Unless you can clearly measure a value, you can’t hope to hold anyone accountable for living it. And a way you make a value measurable is to describe in precise terms, the exact behaviors that demonstrate the value, along with the results that the behaviors should bring about. In my workshop example, I tell participants that, “all my behaviors need to leave you feeling 1) safe – free to be who you are, and 2) better about yourself. If you don’t feel safe, and if your confidence is not enhanced by our time together, then I am not living the value of respect. And if this is the case, I invite you to bring it to my attention at any time, either privately or publically. I promise no repercussions for having the courage to do so.”
Step 3. Turn behaviors into agreements. Accountability is the ability to be counted on. By making an agreement that you will act with respect in the behaviors you described, you create a condition for success. What you agree to must be perceived by everyone as acting in alignment with your espoused values (in this case, respect). This is why every agreement must be accompanied by a support requirement. The support you require is that people bring it to your attention if there is a perceived incongruence. To cultivate accountability, you have to make it safe for people to have conversations.
Step 4. Continually reinforce your intent. If you are serious about creating a respectful workplace, then shine a light on respectful actions whenever you have the opportunity. Catch people being respectful. Describe what you saw in their behavior that was respectful and how it aligns with what you are committed to build. Before you start your next meeting, take five minutes to hear a story about how someone on your team acted respectfully. You, as a leader, will need to model the way by wandering around and identifying and tracking respectful behavior. Lead by telling the story first, until others have the trust and confidence to start sharing what they observe.
Step 5. Follow through. There is a difference between value statements and values. With no consequences, there can be no accountability. With no accountability, all you have are empty value statements, but no real values. Recently I was helping an executive team write their value statements. Respect was on the top of the list. We then clarified exactly what respect would look like on this team, what we all agreed to do to act respectfully, and what the organization could expect – and require – in terms of respectful behaviors. We then started to talk about one of the senior sales people who out sells everyone but is the most disrespectful person in the organization. After considerable discussion, I explained, “You don’t have to fire him, but if he continues to behave disrespectfully, and you keep him on as a sales person because of his sales competence, I suggest you cross off the value of respect and replace it with profit, because that is what you are telling your organization you ultimately value.”
Everyone wants a respectful workplace. Using these five steps can get you there. It’s imperative to remember that a respectful culture begins with self-respect. Anyone who abuses others doesn’t value himself or herself, and people who respect themselves have no tolerance for disrespect.
Most importantly, leadership means making it safe to have the conversations while ensuring there are no repercussions. Being respectful isn’t about being perfect or pretending to be flawless. Instead, it’s about acknowledging mistakes and being willing to talk about perceived incongruences. Respect means supporting each other to grow and develop in an environment that fosters mutual learning. Remember, we all have bad days or moments when we need the occasional reminder to stay vigilant.