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August 8, 2012
Practice Your Corporate Values
 
It’s the very end of an NFL game and the tension is thick. The home team is down by three points and they have the ball for one final drive, but the clock is ticking away. In fact, they’re now inside two minutes to go and they’ve got to summon some magic. Do you think they’ve spent any time preparing for these types of situations in practice? You can bet your bottom dollar they have! Part of the purpose of practice is to work through various scenarios we might face so that we can be better prepared to handle them successfully when they arise. Values-based behavior is no different.
 
The more we teach values in our organizations, and the more we teach our people how to use those values to make sound, consistent decisions, the more likely we are to handle challenges or crises in an appropriate way. Let’s look at a simple example:
 
Suppose you’re a mortgage broker and a client asks you to fudge a small detail on their application so that they can more easily be approved for the loan. You know that they can easily afford the payments, and yet this detail threatens to derail the loan processing. What do you do? What will your company back you on? How do you resolve the conflict between helping the client and being 100% honest? What if your company is behind on its sales goals and everyone needs this application to go through?
 
These are not always as easy to answer as they may at first seem. Regardless of their degree of difficulty, though, if we haven’t discussed these situations and the right way to handle them up front, our people won’t know what to do when they arise. Just like the two-minute drill in football, we have to practice ethical behavior before we’re faced with the tough choices.
 
When my children were little, my wife used to do “temptations” with them before bed each night. She would describe a difficult situation — peer pressure to join some friends in cheating on a test, e.g., — and then they’d discuss how to handle such a temptation. By role-playing these situations in advance, our kids were better able to make good decisions when they happened for real.
 
In my former company, we did training that was similar to the concept of these “temptations.” We designed case scenarios that would be typical of the kinds of things that happened every day. Then, working in small groups, we asked our employees to explain how they would respond to these situations and which of our Fundamentals (the values and practices we taught daily) would most guide their behavior. This got people used to thinking about how to make decisions, and also got them used to thinking of our Fundamentals as a practical guide for behavior, instead of just a meaningless list of values. It also gave us a chance to dialogue about tricky situations and the shades of gray they often presented, so that everyone was clear on the expected actions.
 
The more you talk about your values, the more they become part of the DNA of your people. And the more they become part of the DNA, the more likely it will be that ethical and appropriate decisions will be made with consistency. Don’t wait till the game action is “live” to practice the two-minute drill.

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David Friedman is the former President of RSI, an award-winning employee benefits brokerage and consulting firm in the Philadelphia area. The author of Fundamentally Different:  building a culture of success through organizational values, Friedman is a sought-after consultant, guest speaker and seminar leader on organizational culture, leadership, and values. 
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