Small talk has a big impact
Look around the office at the people you work with and ask yourself this question:
How does my team actualize its values?
What sort of agency do team members have to act in a manner consistent with values?
Furthermore, is that agency promoted from a senior management team or from within the grass-roots of the organisation?
If we’re not careful, the values on the plaque by the entrance are not the values people apply in their work.
ENRON is perhaps the most famous company associated with a values-action disconnect.
If you’re unfamiliar with the ENRON farce, allow me to explain. Enron became the darling child of high-growth, high-performance companies in the 1990s. For six years in a row, ENRON was declared as one America’s most innovative companies.
The core value statement of Enron included the following: respect, integrity, communication, and excellence.
Values which give an aura of lofty aspirations and trustworthiness.
Simultaneously, ENRON was defrauding investors (and themselves) by manipulating the books to show higher-than-reality payments. Utilizing market-to-market accounting. Unrealised gains from outstanding invoices were added to the income line of financial reports. More than 50% of Enron’s “income” was unsubstantiated and outstanding invoices adjusted to market value.
While technically legal, the magnitude of the deception eventually caught the company out. As in – company collapse and jail time caught out.
The outworking of the day-to-day operations was in complete violation of the very valuesexpressed as “core” to the company.
Instead of communication and integrity, Enron’s leaders hid transactions and withheld key information from shareholders. Certainly, the demise of the company shows a distinct lack of respect and excellence.
Contrast ENRON with the likes of a firm I talked to recently. A multi-hundred-million-dollar firm.
They had a value of “lifelong learning.”If you dug a little deeper, that learning value outworked itself as “buy any books you want, as often as you want, so long as you read the book and then add it to the library in the office.” So, people bought books and read them.
While books are not a big deal, and certainly didn’t hurt the firm’s expense budget to any degree, the practice reveals a surprising consistency with expressed values.
The writing on the wall actually had an impact on day-to-day operations and decision-making.
When you look around your office, what tells you people live out the values you hold as vital, core, and necessary?
If you cannot see a visible outworking, what do conversations team-members have tell you about the degree to which people believe in, and engage with, your organisations touted values?
When I was working in East Asia, in hot and muggy weather, the ice-cold water cooler was akin to a watering hole for African wildlife in the Serengeti. The water cooler gathered everyone, eclectically, from across the organisation.
This sort of community gathering space became a place for reminding people, passing memos, getting the latest gossip, and generally talking about anything.
While we had an early version of an internal intranet for communication, it was easier to write a note and tack it to the wall near the water cooler if you really needed people to know something.
The process was so informally integral to operations, we used the phrase “water cooler moments”to describe team interactions at the ice-cold gathering spot.
Interestingly, it was possible to learn more about team dynamics or operational success/failure in a water-cooler moment – informally – than it was to conduct a staff survey.
Those moments revealed our ability (or inability) to outwork and actualize our values.
If you value collaboration – where do you hear people talking about it, or talking collaboratively about projects?
If you value integrity, have you heard anyone pulling up a team member to say something like “Hey, we need to get back to that customer and admit our failing in this area”?
I don’t know if you have a water cooler anymore, but I’d be willing to bet you have a coffee machine. So picture the coffee in the office – what do those conversations tell you about how people do or do not live out your values?
In the 21st century, we increasingly work with geographically remote or time-zone disassociated teams. Platforms such as Slack, MS Teams, or Telegram have become an expected part of office life.
Instead of grabbing a coffee together (or heading to the water cooler), team members often use chat platforms as a basis for both formal and informal communication.
So pay attention – not in a weird, creepy micro-management way – but in a way which shows you’re paying attention to the things which truly matter to your teams. What do you teams talk about? How does that talk reveal values?
One significant aide to understanding how small-talk in your teams reveals values is Karma. As a chat add-on bot, Karma lets you understand team interaction in greater detail.
See what projects are on-time and which are falling to the way-side. What does that reveal about the value priorities of team members?
Watch co-workers give and receive appreciative ‘karma’ applause. Again, how does that interaction reveal the values of your team at work on a daily basis?
Don’t let the outworking of values be a mystery in your team. Use existing communication channels to better understand the passion your team brings when working together. Try Karma today.
Enron. (2000). Code of ethics. Retrieved from http://www.thesmokinggun.com/file/enrons-code-ethics
Gambhir, V. (2018, 27 August). Don’t underestimate the value of small talk. Retrieved from http://www.monday-8am.com/dont-underestimate-the-value-of-small-talk/
Jigsaw Productions (Producer). (2005). Enron: The smartest guys in the room [Video file]. Retrieved from www.netflix.com
Lencioni, P. (2002). Make your values mean something. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2002/07/make-your-values-mean-something
O’Conner, M. (2016, 04 March). The social value of small talk. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/2JW3Jf9
Thomas, C. W. (2002). The rise and fall of Enron. Journal of Accountancy. Retrieved from http://www.journalofaccountancy.com/issues/2002/apr/theriseandfallofenron.html