There is a difference between saying the right words to talk about organizational values and culture and giving meaning to words through actions.
How can we identify an organization’s values? Listen for phrases that get repeated in daily life.
What describes your culture? How are these values translated from words into actions that help the community thrive?
Organizational Values Revealed
– Examples from Traveling Abroad
During a recent trip to Vietnam I learned much about their culture and, through my reactions, I also discovered more about myself. These insights are revealed through essential words: some that are important to me (expressing my values) and others that specifically apply in Vietnam (a country is an organization too).
(Scroll to the end for photos.)
When traveling abroad I make the effort to master the local version of “Thank you.”
In Vietnamese it is written “cảm ơn.” I’m still uncertain how to pronounce it since, in their tone-based language, there are five different ways to articulate the letters C.A.M. Each of these pronouciations represents a unique definition ranging from feeling to chin to forbidden.
Instead of sharing appreciation I often mumbled an embarrassed, “cmmmmn”.
My reaction contradicted my values! My life objective is to learn and I express openness to growth with words of appreciation. My mumbling focused on me rather than learning from others. In Vietnam I found my way to express gratitude for growth: a “thumbs up” or a handshake did the job.
Hello, Young Man
We visited with expat friends who each spontaneously expressed their you-need-to-know-this-word-in-Vietnamese. These are culture-specific terms which make sense in the culture and which help those on the outside make sense of the culture.
“I hear ‘em oi’ (pronounced ‘aim oy’) 100 times a day to get someone’s attention,” reported a friend working in a male professional environment.
“Em oi” means “May I have your attention, young fellow.” “Em” refers to the youthfulness which even more mature gentlemen consider a compliment. “Oi” refers to creating a connection. I see you and please see me too.
“Em oi” launches an exchange.
Another friend, a woman who faced the daily price negotiation for bananas, school supplies, and even medicine expressed her appreciation for ways to stop an exchange, to set limits.
“KHÔNG” (pronounced “hong” with a severe tone of voice) means “ENOUGH!” No more haggling over prices. No more following me around. Let. Me. Be.
Isn’t it fascinating how these chosen words speak volumes both about ourself the culture in which they are used?!
Behind each of these selected lies individual and cultural values
- life-long learning through appreciation
- the search for attention
- a desire to stay young
- keeping boundaries
Organizational Values Revealed
– Words at Work
Let’s explore some common words heard in organizations. We all agree on their worth, and yet many people experience a gap between the concept and the context (implementation).
What values describe your corporate culture? How do they impact members’ actions and decision-making?
Everyone believes in teamwork. And yet some colleagues miss feeling a sense of belonging. How is commitment to teamwork expressed in your organization? Test yourself with these questions:
- How often are team meetings held?
- How much of the agenda is set by team members…or is it controlled by the manager?
- What element of compensation relies on individual performance vs. on team results?
- How do you learn and celebrate together?
- Do team members eat together?… or do colleagues limit their interactions to work-related issues?
“The team that eats together stays together.”
Many corporate mission statements include the word “innovation.” Let’s unpack that.
Creativity and discovery require experimentation. Testing the unknown means experiencing failure. ERROR?! MISTAKES?!
- When was the last time an error occurred in your team?
What happened before, during, and after?
- How long are you willing to keep trying before reaching desired results?
- How is learning from errors shared throughout the organization?
- What is the career path of the top managers? How do the C-Suite leaders model learning from mistakes?
- What happens to the manager who only shares successes?
“Never get discouraged if you fail. Learn from it. Keep trying. Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
– Thomas Edison
When a culture favors open minds, there exist safe spaces for people to express different points of view without fear.
- What is the role of brainstorming and of laying out ideas without judgement in your team?
- How well do people listen to each other…or are most folk preparing their own response before seeking understanding?!
- What benchmarks are used to keep you and your team oriented towards growth and improvement?
- How diverse is your team: in gender, race, nationality, age, and more?
- Whose ideas get selected?
“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…Unless you fail to make the turn.”
– Helen Keller (blind, deaf, & dumb. Prolific author. 1880 – 1968)
Teamwork, innovation, open-mindedness, and every one of our corporate values gains meaning by how it is put into practice. What a leadership opportunity!
Organizational Values Revealed
– Practices in Personal Life
Just as your team at work thrives on belonging to a group and contributing to a purpose with values, your family and personal entourage do too.
Teamwork & Togetherness
If you seek family togetherness, how often do you enjoy family time? Is it regularly planned and marked on the family calendar? When do you eat together? How does each person help with chores?
Put into practice.
Are your parents ageing? Plan a weekly phone call. Every week.
Does your household include teens? Schedule a smart-phone-free family meal. Generate interest by inviting them to choose the menu. Make it a time to coordinate calendars so that you can prevent misunderstandings (“Where is the party and what time will you be back?” rather than correcting them (“Where were you until the wee hours last night?”).
Innovation & Creativity
Transmit creativity and a spirit of experimentation in the kids through your response to their mistakes, whether it’s spilled milk, leaving a mess, and (mis)use of money.
Teach them calmly (!) to clean up. No lound voices needed. The kids will learn a valuable skill and, if they don’t like it, they’ll find ways to make cleaning faster or more fun … or how to avoid making a mess in the first place.
As a family, brainstorm ways to keep the living room welcoming…and ways to enjoy it together! When did you last sit down for a card game or a movie night?
Help kids find ways to earn money: bake cakes to order for the neighbors, take care of younger kids or keep company to elderly folk, tutor younger children in schoolwork.
(FYI, we did not pay children to do regular chores. Helping with the family is part of togetherness. We all participate in making home a nice place to be.)
Open Kids’ Minds
Opportunities abound to stretch children’s comfort zones.
- Invite adults to join in a family meal. The children will learn more about you and the world.
- Try a discovery menu. Have you tasted Moroccan tagine, Vietnamese spring rolls, Indian curry, or French steak tartare? They don’t have to like it. The purpose is to discover something new.
- Plan a vacation in an exotic country!
“We have found that companies need to speak a common language, because some of the suggested ways to harness disruptive innovation are seemingly counter-intuitive. If companies don’t have that common language, it is hard for them to come to consensus on a counter-intuitive course of action.”
– Clayton Christensen, professor Harvard Business School
Identify those most important words for your organization and translate them into every day actions.
This is constructive communication in practice and it is my area of expertise.
Can I help you transmit teamwork, innovation, openness and other values throughout your organization? Discover the culture-strengthening workshops here or contact me directly to discuss your specific situation.
“Hẹn sớm gặp lại.” (Vietnamese)emailme:firstname.lastname@example.org
“A bientôt.” (French)
Let’s be in touch.
Photos from our Trip to Vietnam
Gorgeous and diverse scenery. “Em oi! Cảm ơn!” (Young fellow, Thank you)
- Thanks FOR the opportunity to discover these treasures, sufficient business success to finance travel and family memory-making, the beauty of the earth and its energizing impact…
- Thanks TO the generations past that labored to level the rice paddies and discover the caves, the creative force in the universe, the resilient Vietnamese people who warmly welcome visitors from previously warring nations…
Delectable foods and culinary adventures at the market, some of which I could only handle from a distance.
“Không!” No squiggling squid from a bucket for me today…no matter what the price.
“Không!” Enough trying new foods. We ordered boneless chicken and were served chicken feet (albeit deboned)! “Em oi! Beef please! Cảm ơn!””