With the establishment of DT Global in July 2019 as a new organization made up of legacy organizations and a talented team dating back decades, we embarked on a journey to build a new organizational culture. As DT Global, our new identity and culture are grounded in our values and guided by our profit for purpose commitment. Reflecting on our progress to date and considering the many challenges that remain ahead, I want to share a few lessons that I believe are critical to successfully building a highly functional organization where people come first.
First, values define who an organization is, what it believes in, and how it operates. They must be lived daily through discussion, reflection, accountability, and staff recognition. Otherwise, they just become words on a page (or website). They provide a guide to how people are treated; they make it clear what is acceptable behavior and what won’t be tolerated. Whether it is answering an email, leading a meeting, handling a sensitive personnel situation, or just engaging in a conversation, everyone in the organization should embody the values.
One of the practical ways I try to bring our values into my daily work routine is through a non-heroic values story. I begin my formal meetings with a non-heroic values story recognizing a staff member who exhibited one of our five organizational values. We intentionally want to recognize “non-heroic” behaviors because these are the everyday actions we want to encourage, like volunteering to help someone from another division on a time sensitive project (collaboration) or speaking up when recognizing someone isn’t being treated fairly (diversity, equity, and inclusion). It can be easy to overlook these “smaller” actions, but the day-to-day action of living our values helps build DT Global into the type of company we want to be.
Second, building a values based organization takes buy-in and participation at all levels. The CEO or President communicating the values and leading by example is important, but it’s not enough. Managers at all levels have to lead their teams in a manner guided by the organizational values and, critically, live the values on a daily basis. For example, one of DT Global’s values is civility. One way to gauge buy-in is if all managers are willing to have difficult conversations with staff. If during a meeting—no matter the size—a negative remark is made about a staff member, the manager should pull that offender aside and emphasize that saying negative things about other staff members is not in line with our value of civility and is inappropriate behavior. When staff see these kinds of actions being taken by management, it sends a strong message of commitment to the organizational values and represents a step toward building the desired culture. It makes our staff feel appreciated, heard, and safe to express their opinions.
Third, I was asked recently by an experienced leader – “What am I tolerating”? That is a difficult and telling question for all leaders and mangers. The behaviors leaders tolerate in the workplace become acceptable for everyone. Regardless of the experience or talent of individual staff members, everyone benefits from receiving feedback, coaching, and being held accountable for performance. While having uncomfortable conversations with staff isn’t always fun, it is a primary responsibility for all managers. Alan Mulally who engineered the epic turnaround of Ford Motor Company from 2008 – 2014 used the concept of joyful accountability with his direct reports. Without bitterness or malice, he was brutally intolerant of any behavior that contradicted what he was trying to create to make the organization healthy.
When struggling with how to approach an uncomfortable conversation, I try to be as honest as possible about the situation, how the behavior is not in line with our organizational values, and in some cases, how the behavior impacts the team and the work. I have found that being vulnerable with my team is a leadership strength, as it helps gain the trust of others and can diffuse tense situations. And when trust exists, it is much easier to have difficult conversations because of the foundation of respect and civility woven throughout the organization.
Finally, I’ve heard over and over again that building a values driven organization is especially difficult during the era of COVID-19 while everyone is working remotely. I disagree. The fundamentals of managing and leading effectively are the same whether working in an office or remotely. In fact, I’ve gotten to know my managers better because video calls occasionally include pets, family members, and rooms with personal items that reveal interesting hobbies—I had no idea my boss is a lego master!
As we enter 2021, I am looking forward to taking these lessons learned and continuing to build a strong, values driven culture—hopefully with more face-to-face interaction in the new year. But regardless of how slowly we reenter the office and no matter what our “new normal” looks like, I know that we are putting in place the building blocks that will establish a collaborative, connected, respectful workplace where we put people first. I am moving confidently into 2021 with the knowledge that our journey is on track, and I look forward to more opportunities to work with my talented colleagues as we communicate better, manage better, and build trust in order to continue improving lives around the world.