Values are not what you see on the pretty plaque on the wall

Many companies create corporate values statements and build pretty plaques with them on the wall – and then proceed to totally ignore them and do what they please.

The values of an organization aren’t what you see on the pretty plaque on the wall – they’re what you see walking down the hall.

And the reality is that your values exist, whether you believe in them or not.  Values drive behaviour, and consistent behaviour patterns show consistent values at work – you can actually ‘reverse-engineer‘ values based on the regular behaviours in an organization.  Most employees can tell you what type of values they see lived every single day in their workplace.

Simply put, your values (corporate or personal) are determined by where you invest your money and your time.  If you don’t invest in your people, saying ‘people are first’ doesn’t really mean anything, does it?

If your senior managers are brusque and rude to employees, do you really live the value of ‘respect’?

If you punish people for making mistakes (the only thing you’re guaranteed if you’re experimenting and taking chances), you can’t claim ‘innovation’ as a value because you’re killing it with your actions.

Why is this important?  Well, in the emerging labour shortage as baby boomers retire, we have to recruit younger workers and millenials shop for employment based on values.  They look for coaches and mentors and collaborative workplaces, and they can discover your values without stepping foot in your business thanks to the joys of social media.  People talk about the good, bad and ugly of their workplaces, and what they don’t say is as important as what they do.

If you want to sculpt your future, then you need to craft powerful values that guide you on the path – and live by them.

Living by values takes work – and it’s more than some pretty words on a pretty plaque.  In far too many organizations the only reaction employees have to the pretty plaques on the wall, if they every notice them at all, is to roll their eyes because they know the company doesn’t live by them.

When I work with organizations to help them define the principles or values they want to live by, I drill down and have them spell out the behaviours you would see from those values so that everyone knows what’s expected of them – and then I challenge them to sign off on those.

Then it needs to be an ongoing discussion.  Situations will arise that challenge those values and people need to be able to talk about how they worked, when they were followed, and when they weren’t.  They need to be able to be frank and honest when these are being lived – or not – with everyone in the organization up to the CEO and be able to discuss what’s working or not.

Only in this way can these values be internalized and concretized as part of the culture of the organization.

If you and your people are to align with corporate values, you need some clarity on what your personal values are, and the truth is that most people don’t (consciously) know what their personal values are.  In the next blog post I’ll share with you a simple exercise for determining what they are.

About the Author Ravi Tangri

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