Before joining Building Champions, I worked for a privately owned, family-run company in Canada. At the time, the company was over 50 years old and had been operating under five core values ever since its inception. Rather than having their core values on a wall and occasionally referring to them in meetings, the leaders and management talked about them all the time. These values were filters for how we behaved — and they were modeled by the owners and executive leaders on a daily basis.
As a leader in the company, it made a considerable impact on me, not just in how I was able to lead my own team, but in how I perceived core values. On one occasion, I had two dominant leaders who were at odds with one another. I was fairly new in my leadership role, and I needed to treat the situation as carefully as possible. I turned to the company’s core values and realized one gentleman was not behaving with integrity and the other was not treating him with respect. Integrity and respect: these were two of our core values, and it gave me a clear path forward for addressing the conflict between the two.
When we met to address the situation, I began the meeting with our core values. Pointing out where I saw each of them falling short, I didn’t have to explain that if they wanted to remain leaders in the organization then their behavior would have to line up with those core values. It was understood. Simply put, these were the nonnegotiable on which the entire company stood. To my surprise, both leaders responded well, and they committed to changing their behaviors.
When I first joined Building Champions, I learned about our Business Vision Tool and I saw that here we call these core values “convictions.” I asked our CEO, Daniel Harkavy, to explain the difference between values and convictions.
“Jonathan, a conviction is something you’re willing to fight for,” he said, “something you’re going to stand your ground for — to hire and fire over.”
As I reflected on his answer, I realized the company I had worked for in Canada had operated with true convictions at the heart of its business. (And I can tell you now after 7 years of working with Building Champions, we definitely operate the same way; we practice what we preach.)
Most companies have a set of values or something like it, but they never use those values. In my career, I’ve worked for other companies that had values, but no one ever referred to them to make decisions; they weren’t relevant day to day. I see this with many companies I coach, too.
My work coaching executives often begins with exploring Business Vision. At Building Champions, we see Business Vision as very wide and deep. It’s more than just a one-liner that’s copied-and-pasted on company stationery.
The first task of setting a vision is to build a set of convictions. You need to invite people to belong to something before you can ask them to follow you into the future. Convictions answer the questions:
In order to make a Business Vision a reality, people need to be united and feel they belong to one another and to the organization.
Over time, if managed intentionally, convictions will define the desired culture of an organization. In fact, convictions really reflect an organization’s unique culture if they’re in tune with the team. While it’s not my role as an executive coach to tell anyone what their convictions ought to be, I can say that any leader who adopts and leverages the power of convictions will have much more influence in the organization’s success. Some common convictions I have seen include: honesty and integrity, teamwork, customer-focus, continuous improvement, excellence and simplicity. Some of the more unusual ones have included curiosity, ingenuity and grit.
One of the traps leaders and teams often fall into is the “retreat trap”—where the leadership team goes off for a few days and as part of their business planning develops a set of convictions. Then as they get back to work in the days and weeks ahead, the convictions don’t make any difference in how they lead, make decisions or treat people.
Convictions are meant to be reinforced and repeated on a daily basis. As a leader in your organization, it’s on your shoulders to find opportunities to connect your convictions with your employees’ current reality. This could mean incorporating those convictions into a particularly important topic at a weekly meeting, or recognizing a team member’s behavior when it’s clearly in line with one of your convictions. Over time, your team ought to be so oriented toward your core convictions that they point you, the leader, back toward them when it’s time for the team to make a decision.
If you’re the CEO or an executive in a company, every meeting should start with some element of your Business Vision and convictions. On the surface, this might seem repetitive and boring, but as author Patrick Lencioni says, “The CEO should be the CRO … Chief Reminding Officer.” No leader should be afraid of over-communicating when it comes to these core messages. If leaders are repeating and reinforcing the convictions on a daily basis and overtly living them out in their own behaviors, the convictions will become truly embraced as the backbone of the company’s culture.
When common convictions are missing from an organization, we’ll see it in many areas: engagement surveys are poor, morale is low or there’s a general lack of team health. People will be discussing and debating topics without any common ground or foundation, which only ever seems to lead to more disagreements.
Without convictions at the heart of an organization, there’s a general lack of clarity as to what we belong to — less accountability and cohesion. If a team or organization isn’t unified in how they’ll behave, then “anything goes.” And then that great, long-term vision you have for the future of the organization is significantly at risk.
If you’re looking to identify your core convictions and Business Vision, consider downloading this free Business Vision Tool we use with our clients. It offers step-by-step advice on how to first explore your own convictions that you bring to your role, and then cascade those convictions through the team, department and organization. It’s one of the most impactful exercises I offer my clients, and I hope you’ll take the time to download it today.