7 elements that bring your organisation’s core values to life
One of my clients asked me the other day: “I know why having a vision is important. I get that. But what is the point of a value statement?”
I could see where he is coming from. There are so many companies whose value statements are only a list of mundane expressions such as “customer focus”, “excellence”, “cooperation” etc., which are posted on the walls of the corridors and on the company website.
Regarding these “value statements”, I fully agree with my client – there is absolutely no point to them.
Company values should be there to guide behaviour, to offer guidelines as to how to do things in the organisation; company values should help people from very different backgrounds have a collective understanding of what the most important beliefs are for the organisation, and give direction when it comes to making decisions about priorities in the organisation.
Value statements which are no more than a collection of fancy words simply won’t fulfil these goals.
The seven elements below will help your company to really live those values:
- Deciding on values means making a choice
Once you decide to stand for a certain value, this also means letting go of some other ones. For example, innovation and creativity are great things to have in an organisation, yet so are predictability and security. The moment you choose innovation as one of your key values, you give up some of the predictability and reliability, as innovation can’t work if we don’t allow mistakes to happen, if we don’t encourage people to take risks. So the management team has to decide. What is more important: reliable operation with no mistakes, or new and trendy solutions? When we decide on our core values we make choices. Let us not pretend otherwise! One important characteristic of a working value statement is that these choices are made clear.
- You can’t force feed values to your employees
You might be able to enforce a new rule, such as everybody wearing a tie in the customer service department. But you certainly can’t enforce something intangible such as “customer focus” or “ownership attitude” quite so easily. Such values have to be internalised by staff, otherwise they remain worthless. If employees don’t understand what these words really mean, or they can’t identify with what the company stands for, any value statement will remain empty words. This is why it is always best if people can actively participate in the process of defining core values. Even if the official value statement comes readymade from the company headquarters, it is still worth having a series of interactive workshops on defining what each value means for a particular division. This way you give your staff the opportunity to identify with it, and make the value statement truly theirs.
- Describe the behaviour behind your values
“Excellence”, “empowerment”, “ownership”… They can mean many things. If we want our value statement to drive employees’ actions, it is important that behind these words we put a clear description of the expected behaviour. What concrete actions show empowerment? How do we expect our colleagues to behave in the spirit of ownership?
- Giving values-based feedback
Once values are defined, agreed upon and well defined in terms of expected behavioural patterns, it’s then time to adjust our behaviour accordingly. This doesn’t happen from one day to the next, and it requires a high level of consciousness. Everybody has to learn to notice the types of behaviour that fit the values and the types that don’t. But noticing is not enough. Employees –not just managers – should give regular feedback to each other about which concrete actions conform to the values and which ones don’t. In my experience, establishing a strong feedback culture is essential if you want the whole organisation to move its organisational culture towards the new values. People have to learn how to give and how to receive feedback.
- Managers should start with themselves
Management should be the ultimate role models for a company’s values. If one of the core values is accountability, and you regularly fail to keep your promises and miss your own deadlines, the whole value statement business will become ridiculous. If you are a leader, make sure you ask for plenty of feedback on your own behaviour. And if you seem to be having difficulties with some of the values, start improving yourself immediately. Get a mentor, get a coach, or do anything it takes to become even better at representing the core values.
- Ensuring recruitment and performance management are harmonised with values
Having “teamwork” on the top of your core values list is worth nothing if you keep hiring people who are anything but team players, or if your performance management system doesn’t reinforce cooperative behaviour. Once the values are clearly defined in terms of concrete behavioural patterns, the next step should be to build these in the recruitment process (by including relevant interview questions or AC exercises) and the performance evaluation system (by including value-based criteria).
- Prepare yourself – there might be people who leave
Once an organisation really starts to operate according to their values, every individual has to make a decision as to whether they can identify with them. In the past, when the value statement was only a fancy slogan, every team – and every individual within it – could follow their own priorities based on their own values. But now it is clear which values must be followed if employees personally want to be successful in the organisation. Face the facts here. There will always be people who do not want to do that: there will be individual players who can’t fit in to a culture where teamwork is an essential value; innovators who can’t fit in a culture where stability and reliability is a must. Let these people go. If you strongly believe that the core values you have chosen are the right ones for your company, you should accept the fact that your organisation is a good fit only for those people who can identify with those values.
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