Why Living Your Values Takes Work

Most people assume that values are an either/or issue: Good people have them and bad people don’t. Yet recent brain research shows that all people probably have blind spots. For example, research on “bounded ethicality” shows that otherwise good people routinely contradict their own values in ways they may not realize at the time. Through small, unconscious, often rushed decisions, people may do or say something that doesn’t fit who they mean to be — and then move on so quickly they aren’t even aware of it.

How can leaders apply the concept of bounded ethicality to help them truly live their values and shape their company’s culture for the better? I would start with three priorities.

1. Adopt a growth mind-set to living your personal and corporate values. We should define a good person as someone who continuously grows and improves. This ensures their identities are not threatened by minor lapses.

2. Shift how you respond to contradictions in others. We should recognize that even well-intended people often contradict their values without realizing it, so we can view an incongruence as a chance to engage. In these situations, try to find out whether the other person is interested in receiving feedback and learning.

3. Shape your company’s systems and shared habits to activate the best in people. Many leaders act on company values in interpersonal workplace interactions but fail to apply them in designing systems, work processes, and shared habits. In these instances, small “nudges” to align systems with values can have a multiplier effect on company culture.

In this post on strategy+business, Why Living Your Values Takes Work, I go into more depth on the science behind this process and how leaders can take constructive action.

At a minimum, the research suggests that living your values, and shaping a “values-in-action” company culture requires ongoing work, including discovery of what is currently working, where there are gaps, and credible steps to integrate values into action more fully. The good news is a values-in-action culture is a massive differentiator in attracting and engaging employees, attracting and retaining customers, and even responding to crises. If I can be of help on that journey, please do let me know. 

All the best,
Elizabeth Doty

Turning “Accidental Adversaries” into Allies

Strategic leaders know that when teams share information and work together, the company as a whole is able to win more customers, fend off competitors, reduce costs, and increase agility. 

Yet in practice, teams naturally lean toward going it alone. As organizations become more global, virtual, and complex, it takes more work for teams to stay in sync and to act as one company in their relationships with customers, suppliers, regulators, and other stakeholders. And when people are interacting at high speeds via digital tools, it becomes all the more difficult for them to detect the unintended negative side effects of their actions — and makes it all the easier to default to distrust. This degradation of collaborative efforts creates “accidental adversaries” who unintentionally undermine each other’s progress and the company’s ability to achieve its larger goals. 

How do you turn accidental adversaries back into allies?

In this post on strategy+business, Turning “Accidental Adversaries” into Allies, I offer a few suggested strategies. 

See what you think! 

And, if accidental adversaries are undermining your company’s strategic goals, please drop me a note and we can discuss your options and next steps. 

Thanks and all the best,

Elizabeth Doty

Using Improv to Transform How You Lead

Leaders who listen and engage in open dialogue with their employees gain enormous advantages. Yet, in practice, leaders sometimes hesitate to invite such dialogue, because they fear their employees’ opinions will be off-base. Rather than face a confrontation, these managers sidestep important conversations altogether.

Avoiding difficult conversations may seem easier in the short term. But over the long haul, leaders cannot achieve alignment, empowerment, or accountability without actively engaging their employees.

What leaders need, then, is a way to spark the give and take that leads to breakthrough ideas without compromising quality or outcomes.

Surprisingly, the practice of “yes, and” from the world of improv theater provides a very strong model. Kat Koppett, who leads improv-based training programs for multinational companies and has authored a book on business improv called Training to Imagine, explains, “‘Yes, and’ is a fundamental orientation toward noticing and accepting what is here in this situation, and building from there.” 

To learn more, take a look at this post on strategy + business, Using Improv to Transform How You Lead

And, if Leadership Momentum can be helpful in mobilizing breakthrough thinking on your team, please drop me a line!

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

How to Say No When It Really Counts

In September, 2016, I spoke with three experts on how to say no in the most difficult situations.  

  1. Mariano Mosquera, director of the “Transparency Observatory” at Catholic University of Córdoba, Argentina, who teaches classes for business professionals trying to resist corruption. 
  2. Joshua Weiss, senior fellow at the Harvard Negotiation Project. 
  3. Richard Bistrong, chief executive officer at Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC and a former FBI cooperator who served 14 and a half months in federal prison for violating foreign bribery laws.

All three agreed that saying no to what is wrong can feel very risky. We could damage important relationships or our career — or put our safety at risk. But, they cautioned, in fraught situations, saying yes is also risky. 

The key is in knowing how to say no.

Take a look at this blog post on strategy+business, How to Say No When It Really Counts, to learn about the strategies they recommend. 

Tell me what you think! And, if you have a team or direct report that would benefit from learning constructive ways to say no, please drop me a note.

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

Personal Ethics in the Corporate World

In today’s high-speed organizations, it is easy to find ourselves in situations that subtly (or not so subtly) conflict with our values — even in companies we admire. Are we really treating our employees with respect? Are we telling the whole truth to our customers? Have we “massaged” the numbers in ways that are misleading to investors?

Over the years, I have spoken with dozens of people about their experiences trying to live their values amidst the realities of organizational life. They have shared stories about compromises they later regretted, and strategies that helped them stay true to their principles and influence their organizations for the better. 

In this older post on strategy+business, Personal Ethics in the Corporate World, I summarize some findings from interviews just prior to the financial crisis of 2008. Perhaps some of the lessons will be relevant to you today. For example, one of the major surprises was that everyone needs to be aware of compromise situations, even in companies that feel like the “good guys.” (That’s how they stay the good guys!)

See what you think! And, if you would like to discuss how to apply these ideas further in your organization, please drop me a note.

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

Why Your Employees Are Always Putting Out Fires

Company leaders, consider the following questions: How many surprises have you dealt with this week? How many customer relationships have had to be rescued or late orders escalated? How many apologies delivered, numbers explained, or presentations redone?

Every leader I know wrestles with these and other crises as a matter of routine. Yet leaders also recognize that running a business through constant firefighting puts them at risk of stressed-out employees, customer defections, a damaged brand, and safety or ethics catastrophes.

The vast majority of fires are preventable. They are essentially “rework” — the added effort and cost required because something was not done right the first time. Unfortunately, firms can get stuck in a vicious cycle of rework, shortcuts, and more rework. In aggregate, rework costs can be huge. The Juran Institute estimated in 2010 that 15 to 20 percent of revenues for manufacturing companies went to rework; for service businesses, it estimated 30 to 35 percent.

Several of W. Edwards Deming’s “14 points for management” can be adapted to help business leaders cut down on unnecessary rework. In this post on strategy+business, Why Your Employees Are Always Putting Out Fires, I share tips to prevent wasting time on rework.

Tell me what you think!

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

Five Moments When Saying No Is Your Best Strategy

Most successful leaders have little difficulty saying no to a losing deal, to a project that’s wasting money, or to a request that doesn’t align with their priorities. But these same leaders can find it very uncomfortable to speak up when their concerns are less cut-and-dried or when their organization is hell-bent on pursuing a plan.

As difficult as it can be, saying no is often the key to effective leadership. Without the ability to push back when needed, you run the risk of “commitment drift” or the erosion of promises, without anyone really stopping to think about the consequences.

In this post on strategy+business, Five Moments When Saying No Is Your Best Strategy, I share several common scenarios that should raise red flags for leaders, along with some examples that highlight how saying “no” has helped business leaders advance the company’s values and long-term success.

Let me know what you think!

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

Finding the “Herbie” in Your Change Initiative

For many companies, the biggest threat today is not complacency, but overreaching. When too much change is happening at once, competing initiatives undermine one another and disconnected priorities put the core business at risk.

But how should change champions reconcile these competing, urgent initiatives?

Eli Goldratt’s 1984 classic, The Goal, offers a counter-intuitive but powerful solution. To explain his approach, called the “theory of constraints,” Goldratt uses the analogy of a scout troop on a hike. The fact is, only one factor determines how fast they will get to their destination: the speed of the slowest scout, a poor soul named “Herbie.” To maximize their speed as a troop, they need to let Herbie set the pace. They put Herbie at the front of the line, then do everything they can to lighten his load and help him do his best. Similarly, to maximize the speed of progress, business leaders must identify the “Herbie-group” within their organizations and use that to guide the pace and sequence of change.

In this post on strategy+business, Finding the “Herbie” in Your Change Initiative, I offer a few ways Goldratt’s approach can help you accelerate your critical change initiatives.

Tell me what you think!

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

Want to Change Corporate Culture? Focus on Actions.

To shape a positive culture, many leaders focus on articulating their organization’s mission and values — the why and the how they hope will inspire their teams to deliver. Unfortunately, almost every company has a values statement, and posted values show no significant correlation with business outcomes.

However, research shows that companies that live their values in practice achieve higher productivity, higher profitability, and an increased ability to attract talent compared to those that do not.

So, how do we get from “values on the wall” to “values in action”? In this post on Strategy + Business, Want to Change Corporate Culture? Focus on Actions, I provide four lessons that can help as you integrate values into action.

Tell me what you think!

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

Does Your Company Keep Its Promises?

Businesses today make a lot of promises, to customers, employees, investors and the larger world. These promises help build trust, but they also add risk. The fact is, we live in an era of transparency driven by social media, in which businesses that don’t keep their word have nowhere to hide.

It is troubling then, that so many companies struggle to keep their commitments in practice. Though individual leaders may care about keeping their word, companies often fall prey to “commitment drift.” Seemingly minor breakdowns in communication, handoffs between departments, or failure to track promises over time can cause a firm to renege on its commitments to internal and external stakeholders — putting its reputation, brand and trusted relationships at risk.

In this post on strategy + business, Does Your Company Keep Its Promises? I outline seven strategies to help you avoid this type of “commitment drift” and protect your brand credibility.

Tell me what you think!

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty