Kouzes & Posner- Clarify Values and Set the Example

This weeks readings in Kouzes and Posner were chapters 3 & 4 which made up part two of the book entitled "Model the Way." While much of this reading seems like common sense, it sadly goes unpracticed in many situations that I am sure we could discuss in great length.

Chapter three entitled "Clarify Values" looked at two main points which were "finding your voice" and "affirm shared values." I think we can all agree that it is pretty obvious when a leader is not speaking in "their" voice, and that it usually makes them lose credibility. K&P point out that if you cannot find your voice you will not have the integrity to lead as you are using someone else’s vocabulary, or speaking words that were written by someone else. Finding your voice can be difficult, but K&P give advice on how to help. You need to explore your inner territory. They explain this in four points. To act with integrity you must know who you are, what you stand for, what you believe in, and what you care most about. K&P continue by stating how important it is to have clear values that you and your employees understand, and not just organizational values, but personal values too. I found figure 3.1 on page 55 very interesting. I did not expect the lowest level of commitment to be in the area with high clarity about organizational values and low clarity of personal values. This chart shows that personal values drive commitment.

Have you ever been in a job and had a high clarity of Organizational values but a low level of Personal values, or vice versa?

The three points in the second part of this chapter are the following: -Shared values are an organizations promises -Shared values make a difference -Unity is forged, not forced

K&P caution that shared values should never be used as an excuse for the suppression of dissent because when shared values become unquestioned doctrine, freedom of expression is lost.

Chapter four entitled "Set the Example" discussed personifying the shared values and teaching others to model the values. The example about Juan Gonzalez (IBM guy who calls his employees in on a holiday weekend to help fix a problem) really resonated with me and I am sure others as well. I have found it much harder to work when your boss preaches one thing and does another. Does anyone have a story or example of a time when a boss should have been in the trenches with the employees but was not, or when one was?

K&P offer some tips for how to personally exemplify the shared values in your organization.

1. Spend your time and attention wisely.
2. Watch your language- use words and phrases that you want to express the culture.
3. Ask purposeful questions.
4. Seek feedback.

The final portion of chapter 4 discusses how to teach others to model the values. The three ways they suggest doing this is by Confronting critical incidents, telling stories, and reinforcing the behavior you want repeated.

What are some ways your employees have reinforced behavior that they wanted repeated?

One final thought that I had was wondering when is it buying into the values of the company versus being lured into the values of the company. I am not sure that my question is clear, so I will add a story. When working at Nordstrom’s I was at a mandatory employee meeting. At this meeting they told all the employees that they had had such a great year that they were going to give a bonus to all employees. The amount varied depending on how long you had worked there (anywhere from $100-700). The whole room exploded with people cheering and crying etc… because Nordstrom’s had never done anything like this before. I personally had a hard time not slitting my wrists. The reason being, was that Nordstrom’s had just changed their employee benefit plan making it much more expensive for employees to receive health care, they also lowered the percentage we could obtain from our stock. I saw this move as a way to distract us from the bigger picture of "loosing money on our benefits and stock." Now to be fair I did not buy into the whole "value system" of this cooperate model, and maybe that is the problem, but I felt like everyone else in the room had been duped. It felt like I had taken the red pill and they had taken the blue one…


Commenting first to your last story of the "Nordstrom syndrome", my reaction would have been the same as yours. Our culture is based on bonuses to make us feel better. It seems that the managers making these decisions felt they needed to boost moral at the store and the solution was give them a short-term good feeling through tangible value. For better or worse. they seemed to succeed for many employees who probably felt more accepted into the company and were then more committed to it (this idea is expressed also on page 75 of Kouzes and Posner). I don't agree with the business move as a long term cure but it probably did boost some short term gains and maybe wage a unifying system which, in turn could lead to some more sustainable decisions.

I worked at a Co-op grocery store which was in the middle of expansion when they announced to their employees that a wage freeze was instated. The reaction from many employees was they felt cheated even though they were making a living wage and had great benefits. Yet their expectation of a tangible reward was clearly voiced even in a business based on a mission to work together through thick and thin. In this case, the organization did not clearly communicate their values to the employees prior to the wage freeze. If they had I believe the employees would have been more willing to work together to boost revenue instead of complain of the money they were not going to get.

I think chapter four is chalk full of optimism but I don't think that most people in upper management actually put themselves out on a limb like Troy Hansen of AgDirect (he asked for direct feedback from his employees on his management). Currently I work for a business in which the upper management is very devoted to the company. These people live their work (at a cost of their leisure) but they also promote a system in which employees are willing to step up without an expectation to get a bonus. Successful leadership, indeed.

There is an adage that people don’t leave jobs, they leave supervisors. When a supervisor is not living their values it can become painfully apparent, and when their values don’t align with your own, then maybe it is time to go. The Nordstrom’s example highlights this. Either you “drink the company kool-aid? or you walk. Or you can stay and be the lone voice of reason. A pretty dismal and tiresome option.

When I think about different people I have worked for and with, and who was a brilliant leader and who was not, and I think about why I have left the jobs I have – it is clearly related. This is another example of the interconnectedness of good leaders and followers. People do work for money, but there are other kinds of rewards we experience by doing work we believe in and care about. And working for people we believe in. Kouzes and Posner’s chapters on clarifying values and setting the example are about being authentic. Being true to one’s self and leading from a place of genuiness. There are far too many recent examples of leaders who are unethical, a-moral, or otherwise motivated by the wrong bottom line. An employee who is tuned into their values and sets their own example, can see this and must make their own decision about continuing with the company.

On another note, I enjoyed the attention paid to the importance of storytelling. As a way of recognizing team members or a way to connect the organization’s work with the intended outcome – story telling can be very impactful. It is a powerful message when a leader connects through a story that shares emotion and acknowledges the work of others.

About five years ago the company I work for enthusiastically embraced Noel Tichy’s Teachable Point of View (TPOV) concept. Tichy defines a TPOV as “a cohesive set of ideas and concepts that a person is able to articulate clearly to other? (The Cycle of Leadership, 74). According to Tichy, every good TPOV includes four elements: 1) Ideas that answer questions about direction and goals; 2) Values that guide “the kinds of behavior required to be a member of the organization;? 3) Emotional energy that motivates others; 4) Edge, or the ability to make difficult choices (Cycle, 75 & 76).

The company was embarking a “transformational? change, and at first glance it seemed like a good tool to help ensure that leaders understood the need for and basic principles of the change and could easily explain it to others in their own words. Although we were working directly with Tichy and his team of consultants, this concept quickly devolved into “memorize a standard elevator speech and be able to recite it on command.? Every opportunity for a leader to insert his/her own voice was quickly scrubbed from the process. This new spin on the TPOV concept was soon being used for all kinds of communication needs, and employees at all levels were expected to recite “canned? comments on all sorts of topics.

I remember one instance in particular where the practice went painfully awry. The department that I worked in had recently been reorganized and most team members were having a difficult time understanding the reason for the changes. Many people did not know which teams were responsible for which work streams, and six weeks after the original announcement there was still very little work getting done. Finally, the senior leaders of the group decided to hold a meeting to answer some of the questions and disgruntled comments they were hearing.

As we arrived to the meeting we were asked to divide ourselves into seven or eight small groups. Each of the managers, directors, and the VP were stationed at posts around the room. The groups were to spend a few minutes with each of the leaders while they shared their “TPOV? about the reorganization and the future direction of the department. When time was up, the groups moved on to another leader.

As we embarked on this exercise, I remember thinking this was a good way to gain clarity about where each of the leaders stood, that we would likely hear some confusion from one or two of them and reassurances that “we would figure it out,? and at least one person would be able to put this change in terms that made sense to me.

I cannot tell you one thing that any of them said during that meeting, but I can tell you that every leader my group visited said the EXACT same thing. It was as if they were reading from a TelePrompTer, and the script was identical to the one we had already heard many times before. I remember the sinking feeling I got when my group arrived at the second leader’s post only to be presented with the same speech we had just heard. I remember feeling betrayed by some of the leaders whom I had admired - how could they have let this happen? Who thought this was a good idea?

I am sure many of them felt horrible about the meeting as they stood there looking at our faces, and knew almost immediately the mistake they had made. In Kouzes and Posner’s terms, the department’s leaders failed to find their own voices and live by their personal values. Instead, they defaulted to the organization’s (in this case the department’s) values and each toed the line. They sacrificed any hope of being seen as authentic and simply played the part they were assigned. The damage they did to the department’s culture was long lasting. What little trust remained after the reorganization quickly disappeared. People began leaving the department almost immediately.

Michael, thank you for your insight on these chapters, like you I found the reading quite easy–to-follow and a bit redundant because of the “common-sense? pearls of ideals. However, like any true ideal it is in the practice that one finds true power. And to me these subsequent chapters were the how a-leader-is-formed stage in the continuum to being a true leader. In response to your thought, I would say your coworkers were lured-in, as opposed to being bought. This is because no one seemed to realize, at the time, the cost and management was feeling guilty--rightly so! The workers, thus far, had seen more gloom that good, and at the very sight of reward, no matter miserably little was significant enough.

Currently, I’m having a challenge moving forward with the shared values model, mostly because my frustration with a personal group. On the outset one would say we have shared values and goals, however, when it comes to practice, it is difficult to engage group members on a level I would prefer. Thus one thing, I am currently practicing is in the 4 tips you highlighted:

1.Spend your time and attention wisely/I got frustrated about last week’s meeting and thought to address a concern, but it seemed better to choose my battles and focus on a more pertinent need, i.e. instead focusing on the irresponsibility of communication, I am choosing to be patient, and give attention everyone being engaged.
2. Watch your language- use words and phrases that you want to express the culture. /in my frustration, I would rather lash-out, but I have a separate outlet which affords me this luxury, and thus, by the time I need to meet with my group, I am more calm, and have words to build-up rather than ones that show my frustration
3. Ask purposeful questions./ Similar to (2.), by this stage, I can look at the heart of the matter, as opposed to the behavior I see before me, and ask questions that address what may be bothering group members. Thus, they don’t feel attacked but cared for (hopefully!)
4. Seek feedback./Trying to always ask if there is any way one can do something better—though with this group, it is quite the challenge… ;o)

Thank you! And I welcome any feedback from you all, as well.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs