About 11 a.m. the EF-4 tornado ripped through our area with wind speeds of 170 to 190 mph. One of the hardest hit areas was Washington, IL where our family worships. Complete neighborhoods were flattened – cars flipped like Matchbox toys – trees ripped out and discarded like flowers – debris scattered hundreds of miles away. Over 1000 homes were either ‘totaled’ or significantly damaged. People became immediately homeless as they crawled out of their basements. Neighborhoods had no visual landmarks - just piles of destruction as far as the eye could see. Complete devastation physically and emotionally consumed the area.
What would people do? Where would people go? How would people survive? It was a ‘defining values moment’. Within minutes of the tornado, first responders arrived and then a mass of humanity came to help in any and every way they could. They did not talk about values – but their deliberate actions and behaviors clearly showed compassion, selflessness, generosity, thankfulness, humbleness and service.
Organizations also are often in challenging and difficult situations.Their ‘defining values moments’ or tests do ultimately impacts relationships (internally and externally), engagement, trust, and reputation. How ready is your organization? If you want to better understand what a specific value really means to your organization, then test it under pressure. Consider how you currently react to:
- Teamwork when sacrifices have to be made in an economic downturn
- Accountability when mistakes are made and/or targets and goals are missed
- Trust when important decisions have to be made
- Discipline when people are challenged to do more with less
- Customer service when there are significant gaps in meeting customer expectations
Here are four practical recommendations to make sure your workforce executes the right actions and behaviors if and when ‘defining values moments’ happen:
- Simulate it. We are always better prepared when we practice. Initiate ‘Value Scenarios of the Month’ for all employees and ‘Values Case Studies’ in all leadership development activities.
- Imply won’t fly. Value-based behaviors must be straight forward and understandable. Use a wide variety of everyday situations your employees encounter to reinforce ‘how we live our values’.
- Create safety valves. Employees need safe, confidential processes to alert leaders of potential perceived value infractions. Don’t let small non-value based behaviors fester and grow – address them quickly.
- Share media coverage. Unfortunately there are regular examples in the media where organizations’ values talk and walk are out-of-sync. Share these real life examples to remind employees of the danger of values complacency.
The November 17th tornado that hit our area created a ‘values defining moment.’ It influenced our overall behaviors, decision-making, and priorities. It inspired people to action. The litmus test for any value-based behavior is in challenging, tough times – for people and organizations. Everyone is watching – not what is said but what is actually done. Is your organization well prepared?