The values of an organization get a bad rap. Usually they come after the prestigious mission and vision, don’t receive the proper time to be fully developed and are rarely used for what they were designed for. At times they can be characterized as the ‘fluffy’ stuff or the ‘human interest’ piece of an organization with the thought that they are weak, fillers, and tacky.
However, values are an incredibly important part of the holy trinity of strategic planning as they set the tone for any company or business moving forward. Have you ever asked the questions: “What would happen to our values if we were penalized for holding them? Would we still keep them? If yes, what’s in place to make sure we would still keep them?” Values define how you expect to regard your customers, community and suppliers, how you want to behave toward each other; and what will have priority, as well as the lines you will and will not cross.
Values reflect our assumptions and beliefs, especially about our relationships with employees, customers, and the corporate culture. Values serve as a decision-making guide and a source of energy for the organization. Values shape the behavior of the people in an organization. They determine how people treat each other, how they approach their work and how they interact with others. Remember Johnson and Johnson’s quick response to the Tylenol scare? It was their Credo (values) that guided their actions to keeping the brand and image intact while innovating a revolutionary foil seal.
Values are also the reason you hire some people and fire others.
When interviewing potential candidates you’re really looking for those core values that exude from the candidate naturally in the process. Recruiting people who already have values that are in alignment with the organization’s core values is important to actualize the mission and vision. Twenty percent of an individual who is hired is due to the technical competencies (i.e. education, work experience), whereas 80% is all about the essence of the individual (i.e. values and beliefs). Competency-based recruiting has been focusing on hiring people based on the “below the surface” competencies as those cannot be trained. You can easily train a person on how to do a job, but it becomes much harder to train a person to have the same values as your organization so pick wisely.
Likewise, when it comes to firing someone usually it is a value-related decision. “They’re just not the right fit,” you hear often. What they mean is that the organization has a set of values and beliefs and the person being let go doesn’t align with those values. As mentioned above, it is very hard to train a person to behave consistently in alignment with core values if they don’t truly have those values themselves. No matter how good a performer the employee is, at the end of the day, the organization needs to maintain its credibility and commitment to its core values.
What are your organization’s core values? Can’t remember them? Don’t know? Those responses about an organization’s values are more common than any organization is prepared to admit, and yet we know values drive so much of the culture and attitude of an organization. Take a look at some ways to reinvigorate and refresh the values of your organization:
- Make them visible in words, symbols and pictures. Reinforce them in town hall meetings and other forums as well as in one-to-one meetings with supervisors and senior executives.
- Showcase them in public relations initiatives, advertising and other marketing communications tools.
- Feature them in your orientation and training programs for new and existing employees.
- Recognize and celebrate people who demonstrate the business’ values in practice
- Make a symbolic commitment – eg a pledge to values – that you sign up to and ask employees to follow suit
- Hold question time sessions that invite employees to ask you and other senior managers how you are delivering values in practice
- Invite employees to articulate what values mean to them in their own way – for example by submitting photos, films or objects invite employees to nominate colleagues they feel are really living the values, and celebrate these colleagues – for example – through internal publications, the intranet or your own messages and briefings
- Create values cards that are in every room where meetings are held – each meeting begins with the reading of a value and brief discussion about how it is carried out in the workplace
- Encourage managers to include one value and a quote in their email signatures
- Add values and culture work to management job descriptions/requirements
- Put together a brief course called Core Values and have managers teach it to new employees each quarter/twice a year. Rotate managers who teach.
- Establish an annual “Core Values Award.” Once a year all employees nominate and vote on the five people who best exemplify the organization’s values.
Values are not some mushy, feel-good literature we put around our organizations. They are the determining factor of who gets on our bus, who needs to get off our bus and where we plan to head once the bus is going full steam ahead.