Overview

Hearing from one’s leader about what he or she believes can have a powerful impact on morale and motivation. Consistently stating what you feel is important and how you think your team can get there helps align them to a purpose. State your beliefs to reinforce your team’s purpose and goals.

Why We Do It

A team’s culture is built around a set of values. If you hire, promote, and reward people who are very process-oriented, you’re demonstrating that you value process and rule-following. If you hire, promote, and reward employees who are excellent communicators, that becomes part of your team’s culture. To deliberately manage your team’s culture, your actions with how you manage and curate your team should be intentionally aligned with those values.

Actions speak louder than words (so consider that if your actions don’t match your words, because your team will notice), but that doesn’t mean the words have no value. For many organizations, the exercise of stating the team’s values prompts the effort to codify its values, which is worthwhile in itself.

Many organizations do a fairly good job mentioning values on their website or during new-hire training. Once new employees settle in, however, they are often not refreshed on the concepts.

How We Do It

This action can be as simple as stating, “I think X is important because…” Be sure to give some time explaining the why of that statement too. If your team views you as a leader, they likely already respect the things you say and want to be in alignment with you. Spending some time describing not only what is important to you but why it matters gets them thinking for themselves instead of just blindly nodding along.

If you see activity among your team that supports the values you believe in, that’s a great opportunity to recognize it and re-state why you think those things matter. The same is true if you see activity that does not align with your beliefs: if you have to correct things that happen, emphasizing why you believe the actions are counterproductive guides your team’s future actions as well. This also goes a long way to ensuring your team doesn’t internalize the wrong lesson (e.g., your culture encourages experimentation, so you’re frustrated at Smith not because he made a mistake but because he hid it, and now the team has to pick up the slack).

But you can provide this kind of cultural guidance proactively as well as reactively. Any sort of staff meeting or town hall meeting can be a good opportunity to spend a few minutes talking about one or more of your beliefs. Use your own judgment on frequency of culture conversations and how long to spend on the discussion, because your team is almost certainly busy, and meetings are rarely popular.

In addition to applying to team and organizational culture with this sort of action, it can also be worthwhile to state your beliefs with your team when undertaking a difficult project. Perhaps there’s a new project starting up, and you want to spend time talking to your team about why you believe it’s important or why it’s going to be worth the extra effort required of them.

It’s worth emphasizing again that this action is most likely to be effective when you are stating beliefs that your actions clearly support. If you’ve got some motivational posters in your company’s lobby that highlight some cultural buzzwords but your actions don’t align with the things you’re saying, this will actually cost you credibility with your team, and having them tune you out will make it that much harder to positively influence them in the future.

Expected Results

This sort of action is a nudge on your team’s culture, which has a lot of figurative inertia. Hires to and departures from your team can have relatively large impacts on that culture, but those actions usually also happen relatively infrequently. Stating your beliefs and reinforcing your team’s values slowly but surely shapes how they make choices, how they interact, and what sorts of people will be attracted to and retained by your team in the future.

Over time, expressing your beliefs and acting to back them up builds a team that is also in alignment with those beliefs. Those who believe similarly are more likely to stay and more likely to refer like-minded contacts. Those who do not share the same beliefs are likely to leave.

It may also be surprising for some leaders to learn that there will be some employees who are happier just because they have a leader that can articulate their beliefs and talk about the culture they are trying to shape. Understanding the team’s purpose and feeling like they are participating in something greater than themselves, especially something that aligns with their personal values, can be very satisfying to many people.

Example

Consider a scenario where a manager is speaking at a monthly all-hands meeting:

You: Now that we’re all caught up on the latest infrastructure changes our IT group has put in place, I want to spend a few minutes talking about why I believe good communication is essential to our success as a team. Since we have a lot of clients in other cities, how we write our emails has a big impact on how we are perceived. It’s worth taking the time to be careful with your grammar, and if you ever have any questions, our technical writers Julie and Vernon have reminded me they’re always happy to proofread or give you some guidance on where a comma goes. I’d also like to take a minute to recognize Alice for great communication in our weekly standup meeting with the client. She’s always prepared and is able to succinctly convey what roadblocks the team needs the client to address so the team can move forward. It saves everyone a lot of time on both sides, and it’s been helping us stay on schedule.

Here’s another scenario where a team lead is getting a difficult new project started with her team:

You: We’re taking over this project from one of our other divisions that has been struggling with it. It’s going to require a lot of work from us to get things caught up, but I believe it’s going to be worthwhile. This system we will be building will be used by pediatric nurses across the country, which I know is a group all of us respect. I believe we have the right set of skills and some very impactful people on this team that are definitely capable of getting us to the next milestone.

Lastly, a team lead is having a one-on-one conversation with an employee during their review:

You: Bob, you’ve had a pretty solid year. I know we point out pretty often that we value honesty, and I remember you giving some tactful but pretty necessary feedback to Carl when he botched a couple tasks last month. I know that was probably difficult, but I believe it was important, so thank you.

Research