Are you sending mixed signals? - Michelle Gibbings

Signal tower. Image for weekly insights, Are you sending mixed signals?

The recently released State of the Future of Work Report paints a grim picture of how workplaces around the country are faring.

Based on 1400 Australian workers spanning all states and territories, the research identified four central themes: unsafe, unwell, uncertain and opportunities.

Australians surveyed feel their work and workplaces are unsafe, and discrimination is prevalent. As well, how work is currently structured is making many Australians unwell. Workers have a limited understanding of how artificial intelligence and automation will impact their jobs and are unclear about how to prepare. Lastly, despite all those issues, the study found that Australian workers see opportunities to build happier workplaces and more satisfied working lives due to the rise of workplace flexibility.

The researchers outline a series of policy recommendations to address these issues, and if you want more detail on the findings and suggested outcomes, the report is worth reading.

As I read the report, it struck me that many of the issues identified aren’t new, although recent years have amplified the challenges. Much of this is also about organisational culture, as demonstrated by the leaders’ behaviour and what is valued.

In one of the programs I run, I ask participants the following binary questions, which they answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’:

  • Question 1: ‘Does your company/organisation have stated values?’
  • Question 2: ‘If so, do your senior leaders live up to those stated values?’

How do most people answer?

Question 1 is always a ‘yes’. Question 2 is primarily a ‘no’.

So, in 100% of cases, the organisation has stated values, yet, for more than 90% of people answering the second question, those values aren’t lived by the organisation’s leaders.

There is so much talk about leadership and many words written about what’s defined as good leadership, yet sadly, we have many examples of poor leadership where values don’t matter.

In 2018, the Organisational psychologist from Wharton University, Adam Grant, wrote, “When assholes win, it’s because we let them get away with it. We let it happen when we build cultures that only prize individual achievements. We promote people who produce short-term results, ignoring the long-term damage they do. We keep people around who treat others like dirt because they’re ‘indispensable’, when that’s usually a myth of their own creation.”

As a leader, you want to be clear on your values and how you are living those values at work. How you live your values, demonstrated through your decision-making, how you recruit and hire, and how you reward and interact with others and spend your time, matters.

Your behavioural footprint leaves an imprint on the leaders in the team, particularly when your words and deeds are not aligned.

Challenge yourself. Do you need to be more consistent in what you say and do, or are you sending mixed signals to your team about your values and what matters? Where do you need to be more consistent? Where are you stepping away from what you say you value? Use the table below to do a quick sanity check.

Table for Weekly Insights, Are you sending mixed signals?

We are social creatures, who are socialised into ways of feeling, thinking and doing. In a new environment, we very quickly pick up on the social cues regarding how we should behave.

If you say one thing and reward a contrary behaviour, your team will notice the gap and, likely, follow the reward trail.

The key is to put values front and centre.

Make values matter
If you want a healthy and thriving working environment, you want to be able to identify your values and know how you live them at work.

Values are part of who we are. They guide how we feel, think and act. They are shaped over time through our upbringing and experiences.

Just as you want to know your values, it helps to understand your team members’ values. Doing this aids team building and provides the opportunity to uncover where a values disconnect may be present.

Uncover the disconnect
A values disconnect occurs when a person sees a gap between their values and those of their team and/or organisation.

When there’s a value disconnect, your team members may feel they must change who they are at work. This may show up as them not feeling comfortable voicing their opinion or feeling they must support ideas against their beliefs.

Research shows that when we stop being our authentic selves, it causes psychological distress. This distress can have ongoing emotional and physical ramifications. Over time, this damages a person’s confidence and sense of self-worth.

In contrast, when people can live their values at work, they work more authentically and behave more consistently. These characteristics help to create better relationships and healthier team dynamics.

Supports collaboration
Our brain quickly assesses whether it sees someone as a ‘friend’ or ‘foe’. It sizes someone up and judges whether a person is ‘in my tribe’ or ‘outside my tribe’.

The brain then processes the information we receive from that person according to which category we’ve put them in. What this means in practice is that if two people are saying the same thing to you and one person is considered a ‘foe’ and the other a ‘friend’, you’ll interpret what they say differently.

When your team members know and appreciate each other’s values, it builds understanding, trust and connection. It becomes easier to collaborate as team members are more ready to assume their team members have good intentions.

When your team genuinely collaborates, they open themselves up to different perspectives and ideas. They also recognise that a better outcome will be achieved by securing input from a diverse range of stakeholders and having their ideas debated and tested.

Aids decision making
When people are clear on their values and how they live them, they become the guiding compass that helps them decide what to say or not say, do or not do. This applies in the work environment too.

When you have a collaborative and values-based environment, you’ll find that the team’s decision processes are more transparent and values-based, and this will likely lead to better outcomes.

Consequently, it helps to spend time discussing values with your team and to get specific about the behaviours that underpin those values. These conversations help you understand the support each person needs to more readily live their values at work.

Identify your values
The first step in this process is identifying each person’s values. Tools such as VIA Character Strengths and Barrett’s values assessment are helpful to use for this activity.

Once each team member has identified their values, you can facilitate a conversation about how each team member’s values show up at work. Find out how they feel when using their values at work and what support they need to do this better.

This facilitated conversation is just the start, and it’s a fabulous first start in elevating connections and outcomes.

As the Dalai Lama said, “Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.”

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®

Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert, the award-winning author of three books, and a global keynote speaker. She’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated.

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