Nearly every organization we have worked with has a set of corporate values. Sometimes this list appears right on the website, sometimes it is pasted up in a common area, occasionally it is part of the on-boarding documents given to new hires. 95% of the time no one in the room can recite the values from memory, not even the CEO! Usually people will start throwing out generic value terms when we ask, “okay, you say you have defined corporate value, what are they?” We hear things like, “good decisions,” “teamwork,” “creativity.” Almost every organization we work with includes, “we like dogs” on their list. And we say to everyone of them, “that is not a value, it is an opinion.”
We also tell our clients that if they can’t tell us what their organization’s values are, off the top of their head, then the values have no meaning and are not being lived everyday.
So why does this matter? Why does an organization need to have defined values, and why do they need to know what they are? Because if you have a destination in mind but no plan for how you are going to get there the likelihood that you will arrive where you want, when you want is almost nonexistent.
Understanding your organizational values and living those values at every level of the organization is critical to actually moving successfully toward your goals.
Why? Because nearly every individual in an organization wants to feel that they are valuable, that they are productive, and that they are accomplishing something. Having a clear top-down example of how an organization is working together to succeed creates achievable expectations that nurture a sense of pride in working hard, and a culture of consistency so that individuals know what they have to do to be validated.
For most people today you will spend more time with the people you work with than with family, friends, or loved ones. This reality means that we need to acknowledge not only the significance of these “work” relationships in our lives, but also the enormous influence that our work culture has on us as individuals. There may have been a time when if you wanted to hire someone with integrity you looked for those characteristics in an applicant and then relied on them to bring that value with them to the office. Today you may need to look for the seeds of the value you seek in applicants and be prepared to nurture that value with in-office behavior. If you don’t know what values your company adheres to, you can’t create a culture based on those values and a key building block supporting long-term structural success crumbles.
If an organization says that one of their core values is ‘respect for all’ individual employees need to not only hear that this is an organizational value, but also see it in action. Are you conveying respect to your staff if as a manager you consistently show up to meetings fifteen minutes late? Is it a sign of respect if during a presentation you as the manager are checking your smart phone? In these scenarios the message being conveyed is that you don’t respect or value your staff’s time, or what they have to say. When you are placed in an environment that says respect is important and then through behavior you are consistently shown that you are not respected not only do you begin to distrust the organization but you take on those feelings of worthlessness that are being conveyed. If employees feel like they are not valued, how effective do you think they are going to be at their jobs?
Not every organization holds ‘respect for all’ as a core value, so how does this work if you don’t live a value like ‘we win as a team?’ Maybe it looks like this: you have a number of people in a department working on a big project that is finally presented by one member of the team. The CEO loves the project and publicly lauds the individual who presented for their great work. What happens to the other members of that group that worked on the project? What happened to the organizational value of recognizing the team effort? Finally, how enthusiastic do you think the unrecognized team members are going to be the next time they have to work on a big project?
These examples are important for a couple of reasons. The first is the illustration of what happens to employee energy and moral when you, as an organization, fail to do what you say you are going to. The second reason is more subtle; if you don’t have defined values or if you don’t actually know what the values are there is no consistency to the organizational culture. Every individual manager, or department has different expectations and individuals don’t necessarily know what they need to do to succeed. We all need reminders for what we need to do to be successful, and values give us structure for how to conduct ourselves in getting there.
Having defined organizational values that are stated, publicized, and acted on creates an environment in which individuals understand what they need to do to fit in and what tools they can use in working toward goals. Having clear guidelines for what matters to your organization means that people know how to achieve and can more regularly know that they are a contributing part of achieving success. When you know you are valued, when you know how to succeed it is easier to show up with energy, enthusiasm and eagerness, and when employees feel good about their contributions the whole organization does better.