The executive team sat back and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Post-it notes blew around the room like autumn leaves on the cool breeze of the air conditioning, as the marker pens were finally capped. After three soul-searching days, the team finally agreed on a clear set of values for their organisation. Statements were written, team meetings were held, people were briefed and posters were distributed to all strategic points of communication.
Then… nothing much happened.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of values. Understanding your values at an individual and organisational level can really help establish your approach and priorities, in work and in life.
Some values will be hard-wired in your DNA, others will change over time as you progress on your own life journey. Others, still, might be aspirational; key traits or behaviours that you would want to see emerging as you mature or develop.
Within the organisational context, aspirational values tend to dominate. Organisations invest large amounts of time and energy identifying their core values along with the principles and themes they will hold worthy and important. This is often followed up with a communications programme, ending with each employee getting a little credit-card reminder for their purse or wallet. Finally, in an attempt to embed behaviours, a values based objective might be added to each employee’s annual performance appraisal.
These are good and worthy things to do but are they enough?
If values are fundamental to the way that we should operate, why do so many organisations rely on individual performance reviews and a belief in osmosis as their key vehicles for success?
The pressure to deliver more with less has seen values come under attack and compromise sneaking in where it doesn’t belong. We read in the press about ethical boundaries being crossed and have seen millions, if not billions wiped off the share value of well-known industry giants. And yet, all these companies had value statements so what went wrong?
Having something as a stated value is not enough to make the difference between desire and delivery.
It’s just like having a critical company objective but then relying on the goodwill of the people to deliver it without any supporting structure beyond the appraisal system. – Oh wait…
A new way forward
I believe it’s time organisations took a fresh look at values. We need to be more strategic in our approach and ensure their success as we would any other critical objective.
Revise, revalidate and reaffirm values, by all means, but then go beyond that and put clear strategies and plans in place to deliver and maintain them.
- What are your strategies and plans to ensure you deliver your values and live by them?
- What does delivering and living by these values actually give the organisation (business case)?
- How do you expect them to play out in your team or organisation?
- How will you be measuring that?
Values can be seen as ‘fluffy’ nice-to-haves. If all you do is produce them and print them on a card, then that’s probably all that they are. But if you take time to build the business case and recognise the fundamental difference that a clear set of values can have, then you will also see the importance of having clear strategies and plans to ensure their successful delivery.
Roger Porthouse is a Senior Consultant at VA Consultants and lives in Kendal, Cumbria.
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