Throughout my career, I have seen how value-based leadership helps organizations and individuals perform more effectively. It enables businesses to harness their collective intelligence and to work smarter and faster in pursuit of shared goals. It empowers people to make better decisions in their jobs and their lives, leading to greater levels of expertise, personal fulfillment, happiness, and career success.
But what exactly do we mean by value-based leadership? How can we practice it and benefit from it on a day-to-day basis? And what role does it play in making organizations like ours a more valuable proposition – for customers, for shareholders, and critically for employees?
What is value-based leadership?
Google the term “value-based leadership,” and you’ll find a thousand different definitions. For me, the idea can be summed up in two key points. First, it’s about having a clear understanding of what you value as an organization. (What are our goals and objectives? What are we trying to achieve?) Second, it’s about understanding the value of each decision or action you take. (How effective will this be at getting us closer to our ultimate destination?)
I first encountered the idea of value-based leadership while serving in the military early on in my career. In the military, lives can depend on people working together in pursuit of a common goal. It’s critical that individuals have a clear understanding of the overall objective and are able to evaluate each action according to its potential value and cost.
Exactly the same principles apply in civilian life and in business.
In the professional world, having a common set of values helps organizations make decisions that align with their overall goals and objectives. When deciding how to meet a surge in demand, a company that values cost-effectiveness, for example, may choose to outsource rather than hire additional staff.
In personal decision-making, understanding value can help individuals make choices that align with their life goals. People who know they value financial security will avoid risky, short-term opportunities and instead look for stable investments that will bring them greater satisfaction in the longer term.
Understanding the “why”
If you want to be a successful practitioner of value-based leadership, the first and most important question you need to ask yourself is this: do my teams understand the “why” as well as the “what”? In other words, can they see how their tasks fit into the overall picture and are they aware of the larger problems they are helping to solve?
It is this focus on helping employees understand the “why” that makes value-based leadership so effective. When people know why they are doing what they are doing, they feel more invested and motivated in completing it. Tell your employees you are switching software providers and there will always be resistance. (“What’s the point in changing?” “Our current set-up works perfectly well.” “It’s just a waste of time and money.”) Explain upfront, however, that you’re switching because it will save the business millions of dollars, and people will be far more likely to get on board for the transformation journey – and more understanding, willing, and able to overcome any roadblocks they encounter along the way.
Understanding the “why” also helps to align each team’s efforts with the overall goals and mission of the organization. The people in our IT organization, for example, have to make choices every day about where to allocate time and resources. I want everybody on the team to understand the overall problems we are trying to solve and the benefits we bring to the business by solving them. That way, they will always choose to prioritize the biggest opportunities rather than spending time on things that don’t matter as much.
Making value-based leadership the norm
There are a number of steps we take at Reynolds that help to incorporate value-based leadership into our day-to-day business practices.
First, we make it a leadership behavior. In this way, leaders approach every choice in terms of potential value. (How does this align with our overall objectives? What are the benefits of doing it – and the risks if we don’t?) We also encourage everyone in the business to treat the money they spend as if it were their own. This, again, helps employees understand the value of their actions and makes them focus on getting the best possible return on investment.
Second, we build it into our processes. For example, before any new project can start, it is evaluated against a set of value-based criteria. What are the benefits of solving this problem? What are the risks and what are the costs? This provides us with a simple one-pager that we can use to compare and prioritize potential projects according to their value.
Third, is to promote transparency wherever we can. If you want team members to make value-based decisions, then it’s important that they have access to as much organizational knowledge as possible. What projects is the business currently engaged in? Who owns each project and what are the associated costs? The more employees can see of the business, the more they can understand. And the more they understand, the more they can contribute.
Better for the business, better for employees
I have seen value-based leadership benefit our business and our people in countless ways. Here are three of the biggest ones:
1. Harness collective intelligence
Your employees have enormous problem-solving potential. But if knowledge is siloed then much of that potential is lost. Help employees understand your goals and objectives, and give them access to as much organizational knowledge as possible, and you’ll ensure great ideas and solutions can come from anywhere.
2. Empower individuals
Above all else, I am a people-first leader at a people-first organization. Empowering people is paramount to success and value-based leadership goes hand-in-hand with that. The other day, I watched one of my Reynolds colleagues deliver a five-slide presentation about how he automated manually intensive processes. This colleague has only been with the organization for six months (as a member of our Global Graduate management trainee program). He’s not a technology industry veteran yet — in fact, he’s at the beginning of his career. So, how was he able to come up with such an effective solution? The answer is simple: he invested time and effort in understanding “why”. He asked questions that allowed him to identify the problem and see it in the wider business context. When you take a value-based approach, you turn everybody in the organization into a potentially expert problem-solver.
3. Move forward faster
Value-based leadership streamlines decision-making for everyone. When team members have a good understanding of the “why”, they can make choices with greater confidence – and without having to go to 15 other people for approval. The result is fewer meetings and faster decisions at all levels, making it easier for the organization to move at speed.
I get to see the benefits of value-based leadership every day. I’m responsible for setting a clear vision, defining priorities, and removing roadblocks for my team. They are the experts and are empowered to come up with impactful solutions. And when I see them grow, gain recognition, and get promoted, I feel like a coach does seeing their team win the championship game.
If you’re interested in building a career in this kind of empowering, value-based environment, visit reynoldsamerican.com/careers