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Translating your 'value statement' into behaviour.


A lot of corporate mission statements are no more useful than the one pictured. Someone spent hours (and possibly a lot of money) defining the culture, the mission, the values, but noone in the organisation actually knows what they mean.


High performance teams have a set of clear values and aims which translate into behaviour. As always, the tricky part is the 'HOW'!


HOW do we translate our values into behaviour? How do we ensure that our entire organisation is on the 'same sheet of music' and will take action in support of the overriding mission.


Three ways:

  1. Customs

  2. Totems

  3. Language

Customs are unique traditions and repeated behaviours which your organisation used as a rallying point. A very strong example is the 'Haka' performed by the All Blacks rugby team. It's very unique, it unites the team, and provides a common reference point from which to go forward.


Your organisation's customs may look very different...maybe you all go to a particular coffee shop on Tuesday mornings, or maybe, like American Express, you have a regular rock concert-like event in the building's atrium after which the CEO will publicly praise individuals for outstanding behaviour.


Totems. These are physical reminders of what your organisation stands for. As a fighter pilot, we were presented with our 'Hornet patch' after completing our operational conversion. Wearers of this patch all behaved in a certain way...we were expected to have very high operational standards, we were expected to debrief every single thing we did, and we were expected to be the loudest pilots in the bar!


Totems are generally a little less common outside of the military, but be creative! Maybe there is some way you can introduce a physical reminder of what your organisation stands for. Your company may have a historical object which has particular significance, or maybe your building's architecture can be described in a way which supports your values.


Language. A very common way for high performance teams to consistently produce values-based behaviour. Some fantastic examples:

  • 'Go to the hall of mirrors' - Australian fighter squadrons (describing the humble self-analysis required after a major screw-up)

  • 'No dickheads' - All Blacks rugby team (A summary of their recruiting philosophy!)

  • 'See it, say it, fix it' - Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team (Actively seek out and deal with errors)

  • 'I intend to...' - USS Sante Fe nuclear submarine (A mindset of telling your boss what you are going to do, instead of asking for permission or waiting for a decision from above)

Language is particularly powerful as it's so easy to come up with phrases which support your organisational values. But...have a think how your team will react if you open your next meeting with "Hey guys and girls, I've decided to introduce a new phrase, and I'd like you to all use it as much as possible!". Yeah...I don't think so.


Any change to your team's culture has to be generated FROM the team. You can't impose Customs, Totems or Language...you need to show your team 'what's in it for them', and ensure the design and implementation is a group effort. The team must understand that the reason for implementation is to make the organisation better, not make their lives more difficult!


Translating your values into behaviour will transform your organisation.


The 'HOW'? Customs, Totems and Language.



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