Why Values Based Leadership Works

I wish I was smart enough to say I deliberately began practicing Values Based Leadership (VBL) during my first Vice President role in 2007…but I’m not! I didn’t even realize this already had a name until I started Breaking Glass in 2017 and began doing research. Here’s my story on how I became so passionate about VBL.

I considered Workopolis an HR start-up when I arrived in 2007, as they had the same HR policies and practices that their then-parent company, The Globe and Mail, had. Yes that’s right – a young .com company adopted a conservative newspaper’s HR practices.   I was handed the final version of a draft employee handbook for review before launching and after page three I literally threw it in the garbage. It felt wrong – it did not sound like the way we would want to talk to or even treat our employees. How do I begin to develop the HR programs and policies for this new and growing environment? I was missing something really important – the answer to “what do we stand for and who do we want to be as a company?”.

We then set out to create our mission, vision and values statements. We held focus groups with employees to understand what was important to them as valued members of the company. From that insight we were able to create The Workopolis Promise (aka our mission, vision and values statement). Despite some leadership books at the time telling me that you shouldn’t have to put your values on the wall for everyone to see, that they should be inherent, I vehemently disagreed with that approach and we proudly displayed our Promise on computer backgrounds, walls, mousepads, every town hall meeting… so that every employee would see it each and every day. That’s how the Promise became part of everyone’s heart and soul.

Now I had a place to start to develop HR programs/polices.

Over the next few years we developed several HR programs, including performance management, reward and recognition, compensation and benefits, onboarding, engagement surveys, and an employee handbook, all at the same time as tripling our employee base and taking on expansion of new office space. All of these program were created AROUND the Promise. For example, performance reviews were weighted 50/50 – 50% based on one’s objectives (which I call the “whats”) and 50% based on the values (the “hows”). Rewards were issued monthly based solely on catching team members exhibiting the values. Bonuses were paid based on company results and results from the performance reviews (don’t forget that half was based on the values). Employees were interviewed and hired based on the values, they were promoted or fired based on the values. The design of our new office space was based on our values. Get the picture? Every decision became easy once we were all clear on what was important to us. Leadership became much simpler.

I decided to test this theory that I happened upon with the Workopolis experience in several subsequent companies I have worked with and without fail, every time, we increased engagement scores, we reduced turnover, we improved communication, we improved our employment brand, we made sound decisions because the answer was staring us in the face every time we looked in the mirror and saw our values.

What I have learned over the past 12 years of practicing VBL is that leaders will gain:

  • Courage and creativity in their decision making
  • A source for sound and consistent judgment
  • Authenticity and trust with managers and employees as they all know what to expect
  • Organizational focus on the important stuff without wasted energy on decision making that should be easy
  • A sense of personal alignment as their values and the organization’s are aligned
  • A guidebook for managers to live and learn by
  • Validation that they were right to go with their gut all along
  • A strong sense of fulfillment and job satisfaction

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