TopIC Banner - Are your company values meaningless?
29th Mar 2018
3 Min Read

Are your company values meaningless?

Lu McKay
Lu McKay
Culture & Insights

Communication, Respect, Integrity, Excellence – a pretty typical set of organisational values. These are, in fact, the values of Enron; the company behind one of the largest financial scandals in history. In this case at least, organisational values were meaningless.

There can be any number of reasons why a company ends up with an empty set of values, not least of which is that there is no campaign to sustain engagement with them. Values can form a great motivational tool for employees, but there must be a real commitment from the entire company to practice what they preach and to make the values part of everything they do. The biggest mistake companies make, is to present values like a standard party line simply because they feel they need a set of values. Values must run through the life-blood of the organisation if they are to be taken seriously and form meaningful change.

If you wish for a certain behaviour to become part of your culture, should it be part of your core values? Say you want your employees to be less complacent, should ‘a sense of urgency’ be a core value? Business Management author, Patrick M. Lencioni, posits that there are four categories of values and that some values are often mistaken for core values. These four categories are Core values, Aspirational values, Permission-to-play values and

Accidental values.

Core Values: Inherent and sacrosanct, they should never be compromised for short-term gain. They often reflect the values of the company founders

Aspirational Values: These are the values needed to help the company succeed in the future, often developed to support a new strategy. As per the above example, “A sense of urgency” is an aspirational value, not a core value.

Permission-to-play Values: These values set the expectations for the lowest level of acceptable standards from employees. Permission-to-play values offer little in the way of originality and do nothing to help a company stand out in a crowded market place.

Accidental Values: These are spontaneous values that are not nurtured by the company itself, but rather present a reflection of the employees themselves and how they see the company. They are often formed as the result of a company’s location or industry sector. Trendy new start-ups for example, tend to attract a certain type of person whose behaviour, fashion and standards are imprinted on the culture.

A look through the Fortune 100 will highlight just how many companies claim integrity, customer satisfaction and teamwork form part of their core values. Whilst there is no doubt that these are good qualities, they do nothing to form guidance for employee behaviour. Generic values will do nothing to help set your business apart from the crowd.

Launching new values should bear no similarity to a marketing launch campaign and should not be a one-time event that quickly fizzes out and loses momentum. It must be authentic and utilise a storytelling narrative that is both compelling and authentic. The biggest mistake is focussing solely on the launch, and leaving no resources to measure and celebrate the values throughout each year. Activities must be engaging, and consist of more than just push communications and broadcasting a message to a single audience.

Take ownership

All too often, the first step in a values campaign is handing it off to the HR or IC department without the proper commitments in place from the CEO and the Exec team. To enact real change, values must be woven into everything you do. This includes recruitment, dismissal, performance management, rewards, promotion, new business ventures and ideation.

Employee behaviour is more likely to align with values when the company is seen to be making decisions that are founded in the values themselves. Employees must be reminded of the values regularly and be empowered to challenge non-values driven behaviour. It’s been said that employees will not believe a message until they’ve heard it repeated by executives seven times, so it pays to promote your values and reinforce their message.

There’s no doubt that implementing an effective values campaign is hard work, and it can be tough to be truly fanatical about your values. The return on your effort though, is most certainly worth the effort and can result in greater productivity and higher employee retention.

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