As with a building, a team is only as strong as the foundational values on which it is built. And just as in a building, cracks in a team’s foundation can be difficult to spot. Problems with a team’s foundational values can initially look like some simple flaw in the exterior. If you find yourself repeatedly dealing with the same issues on your team, however, they are likely symptoms of a deeper crack in your foundational values.

Unfortunately, if the root of the problem exists in your foundation – perhaps a lack of mutual trust among team members – you can tinker all day with your team’s exterior without improving results. Similarly, what looks like an innocent crack in the wall (e.g., a blip in employee turnover) could actually indicate a deeper problem in your foundation (e.g., a disconnect between values and actions). Winning leaders know they must first pour a strong foundation of values before they can build a house to lead in.

Strongly-held values create a strong team foundation. However, most values such as respect, teamwork, innovation, excellence, and customer focus are just concepts, and it’s difficult to measure and manage concepts.

The key is to convert your values into behaviors so you can measure and manage them. That’s how you bring values to life – by describing and modeling behaviors that demonstrate each value. This helps everyone understand the intended spirit of the values, minimizes misinterpretations, and defines observable behaviors for which the team is held accountable. Then your stated values are aligned with your operating values, and you are leading with integrity. Values in action are the glue to a winning culture.

Defining specific, behavioral examples helps clarify the intention of each value. For instance, a team value of “service excellence” can be interpreted many ways: Is the customer always right? Do we provide excellent service at any cost? Do we serve external customers before internal customers? Are inquiries answered within an hour, a day, or a week?

If you really want your values to stick with your team, involve team members in the process of clarifying the values. People are committed to what they help create, so let them interpret the values and define behaviors (within your acceptable boundaries). Facilitate this by asking these four questions:

  1. What do our team values mean to you?
  2. How do these values make you feel?
  3. What specific behaviors do you think best demonstrate these values?
  4. What could you do differently to better reflect these values in your work?

In answering these questions, your team will express specific behaviors that will bring your values to life!