I am going to ruffle some feathers.
Organizational values are the most important activity an organization can undertake. Period. They frame expectations about behaviors; are proven to amplify both employee and customer engagement; and their presence is directly correlated with productivity and growth. However, values only generate this positive impact when they are established correctly. Otherwise they can be hugely detrimental. Here are the key considerations for establishing values that will strengthen your organization, and not undermine it:
Stop Using Values As Validation
When I facilitate my Values Workshops, it never fails – most participants want to claim “aspirational values.” Aspirational values are what we either wish we valued (but don’t), or that we believe we ought to value in order to be a good person. In both cases we are not currently demonstrating the behaviors those values would create.
The actual (as opposed to aspirational) values of the individual or the organization can be easily recognized by where a large portion of time, money and effort is being spent. If an organization claims Innovation as a core value, but is only creating enhanced services or products – that is not Innovation. Innovation is disruptive, risky and changes both entire markets and societies. Better to say “Enhancement” or “Improvement” when that is what is being valued.
The same principle applies to common values such as Creativity, Service, Communication, Accountability, Diversity & Inclusion, Transparency and Integrity. Each value requires rigorous willingness to do all that the value stands for, without cherry-picking just our favorite aspects.
When an organization claims a value they obviously do not embody, employees and customers can tell. The sense of disconnection is tangible. The inevitable result is mistrust. In a situation where reality and words do not match; engagement, productivity, brand affinity, and growth are all impacted. In the end, disingenuous values are worse than no stated values.
Here are some questions you can answer to determine what you, or your organization, really do value. Once you answer these, it becomes pretty clear what is working and what is not. You can certainly alter behaviors to reflect a value you desire, but that requires a whole new paradigm – which is extremely difficult.
Only Have 3-4 Core Values
I recently spoke at an organization that held a whopping 15 core values. They were all inspiring words like Accountability and Integrity, which might have been true of the organization. Yet no one in the audience could remember most of them, if they even knew any of them at all.
While 15 core values is more than most organizations typically claim, very few take the extra time and effort to winnow their values down to a manageable (and memorable) 3 or 4. From a brain science standpoint, 3 to 4 values can be memorized by anyone, and that is exactly what you want your customers and employees to do. Why? Because only when they remember your values do they attempt to embody them. Otherwise your vitally important values are relegated into the realm of unmanageable in an over stimulated world. In brief, they are ignored and forgotten amid too much information.
The best way to identify the 3-4 core values is by process of identification, connection, and sublimation. That is: First identify approximately 12 core values that are representational of the organization’s best behaviors. Second, connect the values that are similar such as Connection and Collaboration, or Wonder and Awe. Then determine which value in the similar sets could encompass the others. In this way you do not have to lose the values that didn’t make the final cut. Instead you can use them in explanations of what that value means in the context of your organization.
Live Your Values Every Day
Organizational values are never a “one and done” activity. Once they are identified and created it is time to begin putting them into practice every day. Hanging the values on a wall or creating a values wallet card are certainly a good start – but they are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to living a set of values.
Yes. I said living them. That means inviting employees to articulate to one another how their actions throughout the day are exemplifying the values. It also means recognizing those who are setting the bar for how to do that. Going even further, it means creating a culture that measures every decision by how well it aligns with all the values at once.
Of course, no one and no organization is perfect. As a result, it is inevitable that decisions will occasionally get sideways with core values. What is more important is that in a culture where values are a daily part of every decision, these moments of misalignment are quickly recognized, addressed and corrected. This is the nature of integrity.
4. Profit is Not a Value – It is a Result
Many organizations claim Profit or Growth as a value. That’s like saying “We value rocks,” or “music”. Values are behaviors and principles, which can generate growth and profit, but are not actually those things. While hard cold cash can be quite invigorating and motivating for many, it does not address universal basic human needs directly. As such, it does not create loyalty of affinity with a brand for employees or customers. What it does create is an motivator of self-centered, individual behavior with short term results.
If an organization claims “profit” or “growth” as a value, it is skipping the vital step of looking at what actually generates those things. Profit and growth are generated by providing a service or product with the value others are willing to pay for. Values, then, are where an organization’s value is born. So, ditch the values that are disingenuous, and embrace the ones that you yourself can believe in.
Values-based organizations are the ones that stand out, are more productive, and grow faster. This is true because they stand for something and are attractive to employees and customers alike, and both growth and profit will be a predictable result, when you start out right.