Back to Top

September 28, 2011 Vol. 4, Issue 7


An organization’s culture can motivate employees to do the right thing if its values are clear and systems are designed to reinforce them, writes Ann Rhoades.

Rhoades, a veteran of Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines, among others, has spent twenty-five years helping organizations define their values in ways that recognize the centrality of people. In Built on Values: Creating an Enviable Culture that Outperforms the Competition, she makes clear that there is no Platonic ideal set of values. “‘One size fits all’ fits everyone poorly. A culture that works for you can only arise organically from the organization itself if it is going to fit with your leadership, values, product and, in particular, the desires of your customers and the aspirations of your employees,” she writes.

While she is careful not to prescribe values, Rhoades does identify six principles for creating what she calls a “values-rich culture”:

  • Principle 1: You can’t force culture. You can only create environment.
  • Principle 2: You are on the outside what you are on the inside.
  • Principle 3: Success is doing the right things the right way.
  • Principle 4: People do exactly what they are incented to do.
  • Principle 5: Input = Output
  • Principle 6: The environment you want can be built on shared strategic values and financial responsibility.

Though personal incentives and financial responsibility differ significantly in public and private organizations, the universality of these principles is relatively clear. The cornerstone of her method is a “Values Blueprint,” a one-page document that serves as a “simple and understandable statement of values and behaviors that your company aspires to.” While simplicity is a virtue, she says that, “it also must be comprehensive enough to speak to a wide variety of situations.”

Rhoades places a great emphasis on attracting “A Players” to an organization. “Remember, the best employees—your A Players—have options, no matter what the economy is like. In the war for talent, as in the war for profit, culture does make a difference.” She is quick to note that top talent is critical in any position that involves extensive customer engagement or outreach, not just senior management. “They’re not always the high-flying world-beaters, and they don’t even have to be part of your leadership team.”

In perhaps the most unique chapter of the book, Rhoades also offers tips for values-based interviewing and hiring. Behavior-based interviewing, she writes, “will allow you to identify people who have, over time, consistently demonstrated the behaviors you want to see in your organization.” To illustrate how this works, she suggests that if one of an organization’s values is caring, an interviewer will ask a candidate to give an example of how she handled a difficult customer when the problem wasn’t very urgent. As she notes, “…if they demonstrated caring once and can articulate it, they are likely, given a similar situation, to do it again. Past behavior predicts future behavior.”

lar situation, to do it again. Past behavior predicts future behavior.”

Read more about Built on Values.

About the Author

Share With Your Colleagues