Companies love to have their values, and there is much to be said for them. However, how these values are communicated, and whose values they are is where the trouble starts. Splendid rhetoric does not make values stick; it simply creates more communication noise. It could be said there is something insulting about how companies have traditionally gone about the business of values, as if their employees need to be told what their values are. So, here’s a little opportunity to test your leadership, or client, against this overlapping triumvirate of tell-tale signs you need to look out for to see if the values proposition needs revisiting.
1. The leadership has decided on the values!
The Problem: In other words, the HR department went to page 69 of the “How to do HR” manual and picked out a bunch of values that seemed about right. The point is, how are these values decided and how are they launched within the organization? The other point is that if you do a study of values across all businesses you will find there is great similarity, and if you do so within an industry peer group you will find they maybe have one value different from others but again very much the same. The key then is not WHAT values are chosen, but HOW they are chosen. Since the train has left this particular station in most companies, the main challenge remains how you communicate these values and engage your employees so that they embrace the company values chosen for them.
Solution: on one level values are intuitive, most people like to think they are accountable, sharing, excellent and more besides. They may well feel that being told what values they have is a little insulting, so you need to engage them on values and create an environment where employees can interpret them in a common way and share the values narrative. It is worth considering going through a more inclusive values change, if you feel the current ones have been decided too top-down. There may be an opportunity to revise your values in consultation with employees, perhaps reduce the number or change the wording.
2. We just promote the heck out of our values!
The Problem: You mean without asking employees? As in point 1, the train has usually left the station, but you can use employee surveys and polls to learn their perceptions of the values and how they translate them into their own work. If you have taken a more inclusive approach in choosing values, the next step is to ensure there is an emotional connection. We can all have an intellectual debate about the paragon human values, but learning to live them is much more difficult. How high level values translate into the workplace is even more difficult.
Solution: broadcasting anything in Internal Communications doesn’t work, but especially so in values management. You’re looking for a connection, a dialogue around the values, so that employees can participate in how these values are lived and continue to evolve in the company.
3. If our managers will only shout loud enough the employees will live our values!
Problem: Values are chosen by senior management and reflect the leadership position and values, and what they think employees should value. As you reach through the organization you might just find this is quite a stretch. Managers need support to communicate values effectively and work with employees to find ways how they may translate values into their work, with their specific context in mind.
Solution: provide managers with adequate toolkits and training to live the values themselves and to become values managers who can encourage these values to be lived within the department, unit or team. Find regular opportunities to have dialogue on vales, and to celebrate their presence in the workplace.
I’m sure most companies will say they have a good set of values and take them seriously, but I raise the question here of whether there is only a superficial use of values and suggest we test the depth of values management with our organization. This is no time for reheated rhetoric or pious proclamation; values are much more exciting for an organization than is traditionally understood.