Why Praising in Public and Criticizing in Private Won’t Get You a High-Performing Culture

Leverage Your Core Values to Create an Aligned Company Culture

I talked previously about a business leader’s need to “listen for values” and always be on the lookout for violations of these core values.

When I speak to groups of executives and CEOs, I ask them the question, “when an employee violates a core value in a meeting with a group of their peers and yourself, should you as the leader call attention to it then and there, or wait until after the meeting to say something?”

The responses vary. Some believe that you shouldn’t criticize people in public because it undermines their leadership in front of their peers and could damage their morale. Others say it depends on the seriousness of the situation. Another camp of f leaders say that the appropriate response is to call it out.

I understand the justification for all those answers. But consider this quote. “The culture of an organization is shaped by the worst behavior a leader is willing to tolerate.” If you fail to say something then and there, everyone around the table is going to perceive that you as the leader are tolerating that behavior. No one would ever know if you gave someone who violated your core value private feedback, unless you told them about it, which I don’t think is the right thing to do.

Adhere to Your Core Values, Consistently

Yes, there are violations in the workplace that are worse than others. But depending on where you as the leader decide to draw that line as to what is acceptable or not, the culture you are creating may not be not one that you like. And the core values of your business are going to become only words on paper, not behaviors that are meant to drive success in your business.

The trick is how to create this open culture.

If you tell your team that “Our core values are so important to the success of our business, that if I violate them, I expect you to tell me that. In return, when you violate the core values, I need you to be okay with that too. The success of our business depends on that. Do you agree?”

You have now set the stage with them to do so. And you don’t have to be dramatic about it. And then move on. Ten seconds, no drama, point made, culture saved. Ultimately, core values should be at the heart of every leadership discussion, even when interviewing potential candidates.

Test if You’ve Created an Open Company Culture

But like all leadership behaviors you are trying to change, don’t expect that just because you have told people to call you out when you violate the core values that they will do so. Think about the last boss that you worked for, if they said “I want you to tell me when I’m acting with a lack of “respect”, how comfortable would you be doing that?

As a leader, you have to test your people. For example, in a manufacturing company that I led, “Respect” was a core value. I conveyed to people the different ways that we could model “Respect”, including being on time for meetings, which was a trait this company had not taken on in my mind, the employees were showing a lack of respect for other people’s time.

In order to test my team’s willingness to call me out on core value violations, I intentionally came to a meeting late the next day. Did anyone say anything? No. Even though I asked them to and they agreed to do it. As a leader, I still needed to prove that the environment was safe to do so and be a critic of my own behaviors.

Change Management Isn’t Easy, but Is Valuable

Changing behaviors is the hardest, but most effective change to make. It changes culture, increases engagement and reduces employee churn. But there are no shortcuts. Make sure you paint a picture in the minds of your people of the behavior you expect and then are constantly testing your people to be on the lookout for violations of (and the positive modeling of!) your core values.

Do you want to learn more about how to make the core values of your business mean something and sustain them over time? Contact Andrew Rush and book a 30-minute no charge consultation.