HomeEmployee ExperienceCulture‘This I believe’: How to re-engage your workforce by building a values-driven culture

‘This I believe’: How to re-engage your workforce by building a values-driven culture

  • 5 Min Read

Paolo Gallo, Former Chief Learning Officer, World Bank Group, and author of ‘The Seven Games of Leadership – Navigating the Inner Journey of Leaders’ explores how to lead with a values-driven culture that re-ignites employee engagement

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What does it mean to lead a company with a values-driven culture? First, ask yourself are you leading a team of missionaries, people who are working for a bigger purpose, or are you leading mercenaries, people who exclusively focus on themselves, their careers, and at best on maximizing short-term profit for their company? 

A values-driven culture is the route to engagement

When I joined the World Bank as Chief Learning Officer, one of the tasks I inherited was creating the induction program: a week of training for all the new World Bank Group recruits. This induction occurred almost every month and gave me the fantastic opportunity to meet up to 150 new people from around the globe.

My predecessor told me not to worry about the meeting. All I needed to do was ask people’s names, roles, positions, and reporting lines, and by the time everyone had spoken, the two hours were gone, and voilà, the meeting was over. Easy. The problem was that it was a horrible meeting; people were bored and mentally absent, and there were no emotions in the room, like in a classroom where people were only accounted for but not listened to. 

Things needed to change so I decided to switch the question to “Why are you here and what do you stand for and believe in?”. Suddenly, positive energy emerged, and people started to engage.

I remember three people sitting just in front of me, one was a driver from Mexico, the other was a former minister of Education in Eastern Africa, and the third was a lawyer from Poland. They all answered the same way. I am here to help, to fight poverty in my country. They did not have titles like Manager Officer or Senior Economist. All acted like faithful missionaries with a burning desire to improve the state of their own country and communities, for real, by being there. They knew what they stood for, and they believed in something bigger than themselves.

This secret sauce held such a complex, fascinating, and diverse organization together and was also maybe the magic glue of purpose, connection, and motivation. 

 How to spark a conversation about values

This I Believe was originally a five-minute program hosted by journalist Edward R. Murrow in the 1950s on the CBS Radio Network. The show encouraged famous personalities and everyday people to write short essays about their motivation in life and then read them on the air. Their archives contain absolute gems from regular people like you and me, who shared their stories in just five minutes. Perhaps the father of TED talks?

Over the years I listened to dozens of these stories. They unfailingly put a smile on my face and restored my faith in humankind. For example, a 12-year-old girl lost her dog during a picnic by the lake with her family. She was desperate to find her beloved dog, and she remembered that they used to listen to Beatles songs in the car. She suggested if we returned to the same spot where we lost the dog and played the same song loudly, perhaps the dog would reappear. And she was right. ‘Yellow Submarine’ did the trick. She believed in connections. And love. And dogs listening to the Beatles, I suppose. These stories are a powerful antidote to depression and sadness. So, if you were a guest on this radio program, what would you say after, ‘This I believe’? 

Creating a values-driven culture as a business leader

One key element is that organizations elaborate and carve beautiful narratives with compelling videos and stories. This is great as long as the narrative aligns with the reality you experience daily. As a leader, it is therefore crucial to make sure that the ‘mission’ of the organization is consistent and congruent with what people ‘see and live’ daily. If, for example, an organization claims to be a diversity champion, but the Leadership Team and the board are made up of 90% men from the same background, people will immediately notice and will transform from missionaries to disgruntled and cynical employees.  

Leading an organization or a team of committed missionaries is uplifting and also requires total devotion. As a leader, the imperative (at least to me) is to demonstrate daily the values-driven culture you claim are essential: trust, integrity, helping, learning, collaborating, cooperating, supporting, and ‘sharing the stage’. Ancient Greeks called “Idiotes” people who were exclusively focused on themself, their power, and money, eaten by envy, incapable of empathy, and jealous of other people’s success. It is a sad way of surviving compared to a meaningful existence of thriving if you have a compelling reason to wake up every morning. People can see immediately who are the “Idiotes” in the room.

Ask the right questions

I have learned that asking the right question matters. “What do you stand for? What do you believe?” These questions ignite people’s motivation and allow them to reconnect with their true selves and identities. Your identity is not a title or a box in some organization chart; it is who you are and why you are doing what you are doing.  Never forget to ask yourself the question, ‘What do I stand for?’. As a leader, you will need to constantly remind people of this narrative with authenticity and emotions.  People will probably forget what you say but will always remember how they felt.

Paolo Gallo is a high-profile keynote speaker, executive coach, and author of The Seven Games of Leadership – Navigating the Inner Journey of Leaders

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