Compatibly charged electromagnetic particles will pull toward each other and bind together. When the particles aren’t compatible, they’ll repel each other.
We’ve all experienced meeting someone for the first time and feeling highly attracted or repelled by them. We’ve also experienced entering a new office or organization and feeling energized and positive or anxious and negative. We felt the vibes of the place.
Leaders charge the teams or organizational culture they lead with electromagnetic forces that attract or repel. Leaders get the talent they deserve from who they’ve attracted. Magnetic cultures that attract and retain the best people are vital in today’s world of massive job vacancies and labor shortages.
Paul Ingram, professor at Columbia Business School and Yoonjin Choi, assistant professor at the London School of Economics have conducted dozens of studies looking at the alignment of individual and organizational values and the impact on motivation, leadership, and performance. They report,
“what we’ve discovered in this work is striking: When you align your organization’s values with both your strategy and the values of your employees — creating what we call values alignment – you reap all sorts of benefits: higher job satisfaction, lower turnover, better teamwork, more-effective communication, bigger contributions to the organization, more-productive negotiations, and, perhaps surprisingly, more diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
One of their studies found that when Chief Operating Officers’ values weren’t aligned with their organization, they needed a 40% salary increase to stay in their jobs. Ingram and Choi comment, “Imagine that: An increase in values alignment had as great an effect as a 40% raise.”
It’s much easier to ride a horse in the direction it’s already going. It’s also easier – and vital – to lead an organization in alignment with the direction of the values of its people. Ingram and Choi find that companies flounder when their culture and employee values aren’t aligned. For example, “Coinbase, Netflix, Twitter, and Disney, for example, have all discovered, each in its own way, how hard it is to develop and pursue an organizational strategy when employees have come to believe that their values trump the organization’s.”
Bad Vibes and Weak Connections
Most organizations have some form of vision, mission statement, and/or values. Most are down to a trinkle of current or have lost their charge and are dead. The lights are barely flickering.
Here are some common reasons they’ve lost their charge:
- Check-the-box exercise — they’re doing “the vision thing”
- Confusing goals/plans (head) with vision/values/purpose (heart)
- We’re not living this way now, so it can’t be a value
- Boring statements that don’t energize and inspire
- More than three – four values (I’ve seen as many as 36 “core values” published in a small booklet)
- Slam-dunked from the top down
- Leaders invest little time in culture development
- Leaders have weak verbal communication skills
- Vague “World/Industry Leader” statements
Renewable Energy: Generating Magnetic Attraction
Three interconnected questions are at the core of Focus and Context:
- Where are we going (our vision or picture of our preferred future)?
- What do we believe in (our principles or values)?
- Why do we exist (our purpose or niche)?
A strong Focus and Context is the energy source of a positively charged culture. Like a compass heading, this provides the organization’s “true north.” It gives direction and guides behavior. It energizes the heart, soul, and spirit of teams and organizations.
Here are some ways to build magnetic cultures that attract and retain top people:
- Jointly develop core “true north” themes that everyone on your leadership team uses to foster “caring for the context” discussions on where you’re going, what you believe in, and why you exist.
- Develop/review your vision, values, and purpose through a series of cascading meetings throughout your organization.
- Get local teams to develop their own vision, values, and purpose linked to the organization.
- Have team members periodically give each other feedback and discuss ways we can live our values and how we may inadvertently violate them.
- Use formal (e.g., 360 feedback and organizational surveys) and informal feedback processes and practices to nurture values-centered leadership up, down, and across the organization.
- Make “values alignment” a final screen in your hiring process. Include team members the new candidate will be working with in the hiring process and get their assessment of alignment.
- Ensure everyone who is promoted is a good role model for your vision, values, and purpose — especially if they will be leading others. Make these linkages explicit in all succession planning and talent management communications/announcements.
- Listen to the common words used to describe customers, organizational members, and external partners. Are you leading people or managing human capital?
- Ask customers, partners, and organizational members what they think your organization or team cares most about.
- What gets people hired, fired, recognized, or promoted? What does that say about your values?
- Make sure values are deeply embedded in all training and development.
- Periodically begin/end meetings with reflections on how your team is living your vision, values, and purpose.
- Weave references to your vision, values, and purpose in presentations, discussions, feedback, coaching, and celebrations, etc.
- Do you have a powerful purpose?
- Tell stories and publicize good examples of your vision, values, and purpose in action. People want less data and information dumps — “headspeak” — and more imagery, metaphors, and stories – “heartspeak.”
- Look at your calendar and meeting agendas to see if there are big gaps between you and your team’s espoused values and lived values.
- Continuously work to align the organizational/team and the personal vision, values, and purpose of everyone in your organization.
As Ingram and Choi point out, “Organizational culture is at its heart made up of values and beliefs and the behavioral norms derived from them, and those are critical for organizational success.”
Is your leadership creating a positive or negative magnetic field? Are you attracting the wrong people and repelling the right people? How do you know?