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Want Engaged Employees? You Need Values First

Anne Loehr

Leadership Consultant

Employee engagement may be the latest HR buzzword, but that doesn't mean you should ignore it as a fad. With only 13 percent of employees engaged at work around the world, the majority of employers have a lot of room to improve — and positively impact the bottom line while they're at it.

A recent report from Dale Carnegie found that companies in the United States with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 202 percent. Similarly, according to Gallup, organizations with high engagement levels also report 22 percent higher productivity.

Of course, there's no lack of advice on how to join this club of highly engaged and high performing organizations, but I think any engagement effort comes down to a crucial foundation: your values.

As a company leader, in HR or at the executive level, strong personal values allow you to guide the organization in a positive and genuine direction. And when your organization demonstrates strong values, then you will begin to naturally attract and hire employees who share and aspire to the same values. Building a culture of purpose and engaging employees still takes significant time and strategy, but finding the right kind of people to work at your organization is a crucial part of starting this journey.

How to Define Your Values

If "values" seem like a vague concept to you, let me put it this way: What defines you at your core? It's not an easy question to answer — and it shouldn't be. Over the years, I've found that this five-step exercise can provide an inspirational start:

1) Identify a peak moment in your life

Can you recall a moment where your life couldn't get any better? When everything felt aligned? It may have even felt like the best day of your life. Now, describe this peak moment in detail. If you are working on this exercise alone, write the description. If you are doing this with someone, talk about this moment for 2-3 minutes while the other person takes notes.

For example, one of my peak moments was taking leaders on Safaris for the Soul in Africa. I loved watching the leaders grow during the two-week program and hearing the wildlife sounds.

2) Discuss the values exemplified in this moment

Why do you remember this moment so clearly and fondly? Think about why it stands out to you as a defining experience in your life: Was it the place? People? Activity?

There were three things that contributed most profoundly to my peak moment: being outdoors, working with people to develop their potential and being adventurous.

3) Pick the most important value out of your list

Remember that your values apply to both your personal and professional worlds — pick one value from your list that you think is particularly important to you in any context.

For example, I would choose "adventurous."

4) Define what the chosen value or values mean to you

Why did you choose this value out of all of the ones you listed? In what other ways have you displayed or followed this value in your life? This should be a personal description — so don't worry about creating a "dictionary" definition that could work for everyone.

In my mind, for example, "adventurous" means choosing an unconventional path, trying lots of new things, going to new places, exploring options and tinkering with ideas to find solutions.

5) Choose a value name that resonates with YOU

Your value doesn't necessarily have to be one word — it could be two words, or a short phrase. Think of what name exemplifies your value. It could be the original word you wrote on the list, or a brand new one.

Most people would simply call the value I identified "adventurous." However, the word adventurous doesn't resonate with me — instead, the name "wind in your face" is much more memorable.

After walking through these five steps and coming to a clear value, go back to step one using the same or different peak moments until you've identified five or so core values.

Putting Your Values to Practice

As a leader, it's especially important that you exemplify these values in the workplace and use them to guide your business decisions. You need to walk the talk.

Before you make an important decision, review your list of values and consider how your potential courses of action align with each of your values on a scale of 1-10 (1 being not aligned at all). When you're done, you want at least an average of 7 — less than that likely means the course you're considering will not only lead you astray, but your company as well.

By integrating your personal values into all aspects of business, you will begin to direct the company in a more thoughtful manner and encourage your colleagues to do the same. I also highly recommend working through the values exercise with your leadership team, even if you've already done it alone. By helping each member of the team find his or her individual values, you will move toward remedying the colossal lack of engagement in today's workforce.

Photo: Shutterstock

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