Showing courage at work can shift your company culture

Urge employees to show courage at work to sustain a strong culture

3 min read

May 2021

Group of youthful people smiling at camera taking a selfie

At Progressive, we have five Core Values: Integrity, Golden Rule, Objectives, Excellence, and Profit. These values are central to our culture and challenge us to do things that often require courage. Instances of courage could be having to report bad news to our boss, speaking up about potential misconduct, or even flagging something that just doesn’t feel right. It requires people to be open to disagreement, and honest, even when the truth is hard to say and even harder for someone else to hear. These things can make many of us feel uncomfortable, and it takes courage to push past the discomfort to do the right thing.

I’ve seen the value courage at work can have in helping companies adhere to high ethical standards and employees hold one another accountable. To be effective, though, employees must be comfortable speaking up. Speaking up takes courage. So, how do you encourage courage at work?

Using company culture to foster courage

We encourage courage at Progressive through an awareness initiative called “Courage at Our Core.” The initiative focuses on the many ways that courage supports our culture, contributes to our success, and helps us build a brand worthy of trust. It plays a vital role in helping us give expression to our company’s values.

“Courage at our Core” began with an art exhibition assembled from works in Progressive’s vast modern art collection. As that exhibition traveled to our larger campuses, we held seminars, using the art as a springboard into discussion of some challenging issues—deciding when and how to raise a concern, welcoming disagreement, disclosing bad news, etc.

The initiative also features a series of external speakers offering a variety of perspectives on the themes of courage. Notable speakers included Cynthia Cooper, the courageous internal auditor who revealed the massive fraud at WorldCom, and Dr. Harold Brown, one of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen, who shared with us his experiences as a young African American man struggling to become a military pilot in the age of Jim Crow.

Along the way, as we always have, Progressive shared examples of our Compliance and Ethics processes in practice—telling real stories of how we address concerns when an employee speaks up (with names and other details changed to protect the privacy of those involved). Ensuring that employees feel heard and understand the steps we take to investigate concerns is as important as encouraging them to speak up.

Core lessons from “Courage at our Core”

Overall, the initiative has helped Progressive people understand that we have to face our fears and tolerate some discomfort in order to honor our values. In addition, we better understand now that:

  • We must embrace collaborators who think differently and challenge our cherished assumptions. We must strive to overcome any preference we may have toward people like ourselves, and to change our minds and admit we’re wrong when the evidence demands it.
  • We must get comfortable with the idea that disagreement is something to be embraced and that consensus reached too quickly, without considering all perspectives—while it may feel good—isn’t always the path to the best decision. Disagreement, expressed in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect, is how we protect ourselves against the dangers of complacency and groupthink.
  • We must engage honestly with others, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. That nurtures the creative forces that have powered our company for decades and helps us sustain a rich and diverse work environment where all of us can thrive.

By urging employees to show courage, we empower them to give expression to our values and sustain the kind of culture we want. One in which people are comfortable speaking freely and confident they’ll be heard.

Mike Uth is the Corporate Compliance and Ethics Officer at Progressive Insurance. He’s held various positions in Progressive’s law department for 27 years.

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