Organizations often embark upon a journey of value definitions with very good intentions. All eyes are focused on the destination – a list of value words or phrases that are framed, put on websites or included in email signature lines. Too often we see the work and effort fade away once they’ve moved on to the next ‘must have’ item or area.
Value statements have the potential to take on a virtuous life because it feels like the right thing to do. While this has some merit, equally important is the impact on culture in the organization. A well-planned journey, with continual focus and reinforcement, is far more important than just the final destination.
The question then is, how do you make values ‘come alive’ in an organization?
- Clearly, define what your values mean for your organization. What are the behaviours or actions that reflect the positive intent of the value? Don’t leave it up to individual interpretation. For example, if you ask 10 people, you will get 10 different definitions of the key behaviours of trust. An organizational definition ensures consistent understanding for appropriate value-based conversations.
- Establish the framework, and then seek input from all levels and functional areas across the organization. This allows people to feel included in the process which will support greater buy-in and integration of the behaviours.
- Identify the systems and processes which will enable the values to take on real meaning. Processes such as:
a) Recruitment practices including the application tool, interview questions, and on-boarding procedures will introduce the values early to new employees.
b) The performance management system including formal reviews and informal feedback throughout the year is another great opportunity to embed and reinforce the desired value behaviours. Outline the expected behaviours in not only what gets done but in how the job gets done.
c) Specific Manager and Leader training and practice in defining what living the values look like and what it looks like when behaviours may not reflect the desired state. Their ability and inclination to demonstrate and role model desired behaviours will send a strong non-verbal message through the company.
d) Training programs whose content and facilitation style reflect the stated values.
e) Formal recognition programs such as ‘peer recognition’ that have not only managers but also employees watching for and acknowledging true value-based actions and words aligned with that of the organization.
f) Discipline and corrective feedback tied to value betrayal are equally as important as the acknowledgment of positive value-based actions. People need to understand where the organizational tolerance is and is not relative to values. Failure to deal with value betrayal will undo all the hard work and effort invested in a culture that thrives on values.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to support a client going through organization downsizing (or right-sizing) in an industry sector going through tremendous change. When the final list of people to leave the organization was determined it was not what you might expect.
- It was not first in first out
- It was not those ‘long in the tooth’ who had been with the company for many years
- It was not centered in one functional area, team or department
- It was not front-line employees or middle management based
- It was not performance/results based
It was, in fact, the portrayal of the stated and practiced organizational values! What a powerful statement about the value-based culture of the organization.
This was possible only because the organization had clearly identified the key values and related behaviours that they believed were required for people to work together effectively. They ingrained the behaviours into performance systems, feedback processes and recognition programs. They regularly communicated the importance of values and what they meant to individuals, teams and the company. As one senior manager said:
“We hire based on people’s willingness to embrace and live by the values and we fire if people willingly betray those values.”
This truly was an example of Values in Action!
To find out how Lighthouse NINE Group can help on your Values journey, please call.