In my Vistage meetings this week, we had an interesting discussion on whether or not my members would make their employees get a COVID vaccine. While there was a brief discussion on whether or not you could legally make your employees get vaccinated, we primarily discussed what each person would do. (Apparently, you can with two exceptions, medical conditions make it dangerous and religious objections. For more see, Can I Be Required To Get Vaccinated Against Covid-19?). The results were diverse and ranged from:

  • “No!” “I would take it myself but would not force my employees to do so because they may leave.”
  • “I have many conspiracy theorists among a section of my workforce, and they will object.”
  • “No, I don’t want to be sued.”
  • “If they want to travel, they have to.”
  • “If they want to work in the office, they have to as we have health comprised people in the office.”

However, what stood out in the discussion was that none of the CEOs framed their response within their Core Values. Again, as Jim Collins says, Core Values are so important that we would be willing to lose profit rather than breach them. Thus, if our Core Values are that important, indeed, they should frame our response to the vaccination question. If we don’t, then once more, our Core Values are only words on a wall or a pad but have no impact on the organization and behavior in it. In that case, they are worthless, and your employees lose trust in your words and statements because they are just that – words, and not beliefs.

Regardless of whether your Core Values are just words on a wall or actively known by every employee, a complex issue like vaccination stresses them and how they are understood within the organization. Those of you who read my blogs know that I have said that Core Values provide employees a framework for making decisions within an organization. However, if your Core Value is “Respect,” what does that mean, especially in the COVID vaccine world? Does it mean:

  • Out of RESPECT for our fellow workers, we will all vaccinate.
  • Out of RESPECT for you, your opinion, and your decision making, we will allow you to do what you think is best.
  • Out of RESPECT for you, we will enable you to determine what you put in your body.
  • Out of RESPECT for our clients, we will vaccinate those that are client-facing.
  • Out of RESPECT for our employees’ health and decision making, we will allow those that don’t want to be vaccinated to work from home so they can’t infect anyone in the office.
  • Out of RESPECT for our fellow citizens, we will all vaccinate to get to herd immunity quicker.
  • Out of RESPECT for your health-compromised family, we will allow you to work from home until it is safe to return to the office, whether that be one month or five years.

As you can see, a single word like RESPECT can have many different interpretations, and this is where things get complicated. For example, if you determine that your version of RESPECT is the second one, “Out of RESPECT for you, your opinion, and your decision making, we will allow you to do what you think is best.” You apply that to COVID, then surely it applies to all decisions they make within the organization. While we all like to push decision-making down, the leadership team has to be able to override decisions and impose its desires in certain instances. So what are those situations, and where is the line?

Core Values are more than just words or statements. They have meaning, and the organization can only succeed if the intention is understood equally by everyone in the organization. To see how you are doing, ask your employees if they know what the organization’s Core Values are, and how they should be understood. Your employees may often find it hard to define them, so offer them situations and ask, “what should someone in the organization do?”

Here you might find a great deal of diversity of opinion. To overcome this and teach your Core Values, I think the best way is to rely on corporate folklore. Your company needs stories of the founder, the CEOs, the great people in its history, and how they behaved in situations that reflect the company’s Core Values. Having corporate folklore and ensuring that employees learn the stories and their meaning as part of the onboarding process will create greater belief in, and understanding of, your Core Values. Furthermore, make sure to repeat the folklore stories whenever a situation arises where they are relevant. Repeating them drives home learning until everyone knows your Core Values and how they should be interpreted.

Returning to the COVID vaccinations decision. Well, regardless of your Core Values, the decision of whether or not to require employees to be vaccinated will be hard. However, I would recommend that, first of all, you be a leader in your decision and state it with leadership in mind. If you want them vaccinated, be at the front of the line. Second, figure out how your decision fits with your Core Values and explain that way. Of course, it has to work; if it is a stretch or plain contradictory, then maybe you need to re-examine your Core Values.

Good luck, and may you stay safe in the meantime.


Copyright (c) 2020, Marc A. Borrelli

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