Decide Who You Want To Be. Then Be It.

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I'm a huge college football fan. Specifically, I'm a Virginia Tech Hokie fan and since it's the season for football the orange and maroon is pulsing through my veins with an extreme intensity. A few years ago I was interviewing a candidate for a position in Blacksburg (home of the Hokies) and based on his resume I couldn't find a single reason why he'd randomly be looking to relocate to Blacksburg; no personal connection to the area, no previous job in the area, and not an alumni from any local schools. In a town as small as ours this stood out to me. In our interview I asked him why he wanted to relocate to Blacksburg and he told me that eight years earlier he had been a personal trainer for a visiting football team and he'd had to walk to the game by himself, in his team colors. He was braced for a long walk past tailgates full of jeering Hokies who would taunt and tease him for being with the other team. Instead, he was shocked when people waved, invited him over for food, offered him a drink, and wished his team good luck as he passed by. He said that at that very moment he knew that some day he would move to Blacksburg to raise his family.

At every football game a Hokie Pride/Hokie Respect commercial comes over the jumbo-tron that features the head coach, Frank Beamer, and local college and elementary school children. The message is clear - we want to be the team that is known for being respectful and inviting to our guests.

And the ESPN announcers bring it up every once in awhile when they're announcing for one of our games on TV. And bloggers and writers from other schools write posts about how nice we are after they have been to our campus for a game. And those blogs and articles get passed around from Hokie to Hokie on Facebook, Twitter, and all kinds of other social media outlets.

And it makes us Hokies feel good. And it makes us want to be even nicer to our opponents at the next game because, lets face it, we want to be the best Hokies we can be. We're proud of what we stand for and because of that we work hard to be good fans (not that it's hard because we're passionate, engaged, and motivated to be good fans).

Where am I going with this little football rant?

Virginia Tech is an organization that has decided that one of its core values is being a place where guests are treated with respect. They have set up a campaign around this value where the message is woven into the thread of the institution. Frank Beamer, another Senior Leader and highly respected employee, demonstrates this value through his actions and words. As 'employees' we hear this message loud and clear and then we go live it. When an outsider recognizes that we are living the core value of our organization it makes us feel good, again, reinforcing the behavior. In return, there are outsiders who look at our organization (or town in this case) and decide they want to be part of it.

As a leader it's up to you to decide what values you want driving your organization, to reinforce those values, to live them, and to reward the employees who demonstrate them. If you're doing it right you'll quickly find that others who share the same values will come knocking on your door asking to work for you as well.


Marisa Keegan is a leadership coach, trainer, and HR consultant for quickly growing organizations who are passionate about strengthening their employees, their brand, and their culture. She has helped lead the HR, culture, and engagement initiatives at two nationally recognized great places to work; Rackspace as Culture Maven and Modea as Talent Manger. She is an author at Fistful of Talent and Culture Fanatics. Marisa has her Masters in Industrial Organizational Psychology and currently lives with her husband and twin boys in Virginia. 


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Marisa Keegan


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