Call It How You See It

Address colleagues who stray from values - the right way.
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Stub Your Toe

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Core values or core beliefs of an organization guide the everyday work, decisions, strategic direction, and alignment of resources. If we intend for our core values to guide our work and our relationships with our colleagues, we must be prepared to support everyone as they learn and practice the behaviors aligned to the values. If we are to continuously improve, we must provide support and feedback for growth.

If employees are engaged in their work, they become owners of the work. They develop an attachment to the work, which results in a strong connection to the mission and values of the organization. An engaged employee will be dismayed if other employees choose to violate the core values and aligned behaviors of the organization. It will feel like a personal affront. Should a peer approach a peer not living up to the core values? Should a supervisor address someone not fulfilling the values? Yes.

If core values are meaningful, they belong to everyone in the organization. Everyone should be able to engage in a conversation aimed at positively changing the behavior of a peer or employee who is failing to live up to the organization’s core values.


Some conversations can be difficult or critical. Thinking about these discussions often makes our stomach hurt. There may come a time when such a conversation is inevitable, and it may take us outside of our comfort zone. Our colleague, Lynn Cunningham, assures us that a critical conversation is often the right thing to do and that there is a right way to do it. Lynn explains that we must first eliminate the idea of winning with the conversation and focus on sharing information in a positive way that reaches an agreement. This idea of not winning encourages us to not assert blame and to speak to the other person with words that will not offend or force a defensive posture.

We call one type of critical conversation a Stub Your Toe conversation. A Stub Your Toe conversation occurs after you have observed a peer, coworker, or employee disregard a value and associated behavior standard. If the values are truly important to you and the organization, you must address what has occurred. If you do not address it, you are sending the message that the violation is acceptable. With a Stub Your Toe conversation, the focus is on the value that is violated, not on the individual’s personal traits.


You have observed a coworker refusing to help another team member complete an important project that was due. The coworker was borderline rude in response to the request for help. This is a violation of the organization’s core value of collaboration and standard of teamwork. How might the Stub Your Toe conversation look?

Hello Sam. Do you have a few minutes for a cup of coffee? (Go to the break area or cafeteria.) I would like to talk with you about the conversation I overheard. You and Sarah were in the conference room at the end of our Adjustment meeting and I was still in the room. Sarah asked you for help on the Triad RFP. The due date for sending was the next day. I know you are aware of our team and the individuals who make up our team. It bothered me that your response to Sarah violated our Teamwork standard. This is not what I expected. Is there something going on that caused your response? Can I be of help to you?

The Stub Your Toe conversation is focused on behavior associated with living up to organizational values. We have specific expectations to reference based on the standards and behaviors that have been accepted by the organization. By agreeing to work in the organization, employees have agreed to these values and standards. If we happen to see or hear a violation of the values and do not address the situation, we are promoting the behavior.

Reflect on Your Own Behavior

Take a moment to reflect on how well you are upholding your organization’s values… usually they match your own. Is there room for improvement? Take note of what could be improved in your own behavior.

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