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Posted on May 20, 2015

What Leaders Can Learn About Values From Las Vegas

What Leaders Can Learn About Values From Las Vegas

City of North Las VegasA suburb of Las Vegas is the City of North Las Vegas, and they’ve been in the news a lot lately. Why?

  • No, it’s not about another corruption or fraud scandal.
  • No, it’s not about how it is the poor cousin in the Las Vegas valley.
  • No, it’s not about the fact the city is on the brink of bankruptcy.

This time it’s about the city’s values. The City Council wants to reduce the city’s core values from seven to three. Can you imagine?

I see this as great news!

Kudos to the city leaders.

Not surprisingly, the local media is having a heyday with this issue, mocking the city leaders, and suggesting this is a complete waste of time. However, I applaud them for their efforts. They are doing something all leaders struggle with: focus.

The Need for Change

Based on a survey of the city’s 1,200 employees, it’s clear that a third don’t know all seven core values. This means that many decisions and behaviors may not be aligned with the city’s values, which in turn can lead the cycle of potential corruption, financial mismanagement, and loss of credibility and trust.

3-fingersThe city is not alone in this challenge. This is a common problem for all organizations – for profit, not-for-profit, and government.

The solution? Limit core values to three.

If you want people to remember something, many studies have proven that the best number is three. That’s all our human brain can recall. Yes, there are some individuals who have the capacity to remember more. But if you want to be sure every member of a team, every employee, and every leader remember something – limit it to three.

So the City of North Las Vegas plans to drop the old values of Integrity, Respect, Creativity, Quality Service, and Leadership (all common values anyway). They would keep the values of Teamwork and Accountability, and add the new value of Communication.

Makes sense to me.

Dealing with Hue and Cry

Businessman with hand over heartI find it interesting that the loudest complaint is over the removal of Integrity as a core value. The media easily found a city employee who said, “I myself like our old core values better, what happened to respect and integrity?

Except, this is absurd.

What employee would only act with integrity and respect if their employer mandated it? It’s like saying how often you should breathe, or eat, or visit the restroom. The media is missing the point.

The reality is that organizations don’t need a long list of common values (see the 17 Common Values based on my research). It’s expected that everyone possesses such values, and equally to make decisions and behave in accordance with them.

Do people sometimes fail in living these values? Of course. But stating them or not stating them as core values doesn’t change the fact mistakes are made. And when mistakes occur, individuals experience the consequences.

I recommend to clients that the only values they should embrace from the list of 17 Common Values are the ones they are prepared to either reprimand or fire someone. For values to be meaningful, they need to have some muscle. Here’s a good example.

If teamwork is a critical component of the organization’s culture, then it should indeed be one of their stated core values. And if someone is NOT a team player, they should no longer be there. End of story.

In other words, if a value is that important, then expected behavior needs to be spelled out clearly. This not only helps everyone understand what is expected, it also provides the framework to recognize when someone is not a good fit.

But to do this requires leadership.

The Leadership Opportunity

Leadership is easy when things are going well. But few enjoy leading in a challenging environment, where failure is imminent, and everyone’s ready to point fingers.

For the leaders of the City of North Las Vegas, they are in that difficult spot.

  • The city has lived through scandal of racketeering and fraud.
  • For years now, the city has been skirting the issue with insolvency.
  • To make matters worse, their internal survey shows many employees are lacking self-esteem.

What Leaders Can Learn About Values From Las VegasIf ever there was a cry for leadership, this is it.

The city needs leadership.

So where should the city leaders apply their energy first? Values is a great place to begin.

By clarifying the city’s three core values – Accountability, Communication, and Teamwork (makes for a nice acronym: ACT) – they set the stage for everyone to focus their efforts. Their values provide a filter for all decisions, and a framework for who to hire and who to fire.

Of course the media will continue to poke fun at the values selection. They should just be ignored. And yes, some employees will balk at these three values. Maybe they’re not the right employees.

But most importantly, their core values have the potential to make a lasting difference.

If the city leaders demonstrate strong leadership:

  • showing that they mean business by using these values in all of their decisions,
  • living by their values and acting in accordance to them,

there is every reason to hope that the City of North Las Vegas has a bright future!


What would you do if you were a city leader facing a similar situation?