Let's get to the Core of the problem

I’m a firm believer that everyone comes to work to do a great job - initially anyway.  So why do businesses have poor performers?  Likewise, why do team members find it difficult to deal with conflict in the workplace; that difficult client or demanding boss?

To get answers to these questions we need to look beneath the surface.  Go beyond actions and behaviour and look to the drivers of performance: Core Values.

Why do values influence behaviour?

The Identity Iceberg demonstrates the impact our values have on actions and behaviour.  What's visible above the surface - our Actions and Behaviours - are the tip of the iceberg.  They’re what we see and experience.  They're driven by what's beneath the surface.  

Immediately beneath the surface are our Habits - good and bad.  Consider how hard it is to change a habit.  These habits are driven by our Beliefs.  

For example, we might believe that a certain team member is disengaged in the business because they’re often late, sick or the first to leave the office at night.  As a result of our beliefs, we create habits like overlooking them for new opportunities or ignoring their positive actions to focus on their bad behaviours.  We find it very difficult to change these beliefs.

As we move toward the bottom of the iceberg...

Our Values are the next layer; they drive our beliefs.  In the above example, if we value diligence, we are likely to believe that someone who is late to work or leaves exactly on time does not share our value.  Our diligence value is what drives our belief that this person is not performing.  The reality, however, may simply be that this team member is not feeling valued, is not being inspired by you as a leader, and has not been given an opportunity to align their personal goals with your business goals.

Our values are subconsciously fostered as we grow up; they're instilled by our parents, mentors and experiences.  As a result of being developed over our lifetime, our values are impossible to change.  They’re in our hearts, out of sight but nonetheless a significant driver of our beliefs, habits and, ultimately, our actions and behaviours. 

At the bottom of the iceberg is our Identity - who we are defines our values.

Core Values are 4-5 principles that guide a business.

Core Values are most often derived by the owners of a business.  They represent how the owners want to operate their business, becoming ‘decision-making filters’ or ‘culture guidelines’ for the team and owners.

Where there are up to two owners with a team of less than 20, it can be very powerful to involve the entire team in the process of deriving Core Values. However, ultimately it is up to the owners to determine the extent to which they involve the team in setting Core Values.

Here are my 'Rules of the Game' for Core Values:

  1. Develop them using a robust process over three or four hours with an experienced facilitator.
  2. Derive a maximum of five Core Values of no more than three words.
  3. Exclude ‘givens’.
    I.e. Quality, Honesty and Integrity are not Core Values - they’re expected of all businesses.
  4. Each Core Value should have a definition of no more than seven words.
  5. Share them with your team and explain what they mean.  Use specific examples of the impact the Core Values will have on the business.
  6. Make them highly visible in your workplace and on your website.  Include them in your induction process for new team members and refer to them in job descriptions. 
  7. EVERY team member should be able to recite your values and definitions from memory.
  8. Discuss examples of how the team has lived into the Core Values at team meetings to reinforce the behaviour and culture you want to achieve.

When addressing poor performance we must reference Core Values

Going back to our hypothetical poorly performing team member, we must clarify what Core Values we believe the team member is not living into.  We can then discuss their performance with specific reference to them.  

For example, we might say ‘I’ve noticed you’re often late for work and I’m concerned that you’re not living into our diligence Core Value.  Is there something going on that is getting in the way?'  You’ve immediately opened the door for an explanation.  As long as your team members believe and buy into your Core Values (which they will if you use the above process) you should get an honest answer from them.  You can agree how you're going to work more effectively together in the future.

Your Core Values will help you deal with conflict

They are the decision-making filters and culture guidelines, so when there is conflict, you should be able to identify one or two Core Values that you feel are being ignored.  Discuss them with the team members involved.

There is no hierarchy in Core Values

Most importantly, remember that just as you can hold a team member to account for not living into a Core Value, so too can a team member call you out.  If the team is not challenging you on the Core Values as much as you are challenging them, then your Core Values simply aren’t working.  You are then due for a Core Values refresher - a time to revisit, review, re-define and re-commit.

A parting thought

Even if there’s a penalty for holding onto one of your Core Values, you should never give it up.  For example, if you believe your biggest client is not living into your Core Values and you can’t convince them to change, then you must let them go, even though you'll suffer a financial loss. 

The positive effect on your team and culture will outweigh the loss. 

'In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.’ - Thomas Jefferson

About the author

Mark Jenkins has had over 20 years in Public Practice with the majority of that time as sole Director of Quay Accountants, generating over 50% of its revenue from Business Development services using highly systemised content. Mark joined forces with Viv Brownrigg, together creating The Gap so that accounting firms can use Business Development content to maximise income without having to re-invent the wheel.


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