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The Value of Values

Quick question – can you tell me what your “official” corporate values are? No cheating! You can’t look at the plaque on the wall in the lunchroom or your corporate intranet site. Thought so – you don’t know them off by heart do you? How many did you get?
Next question – what are your “unofficial” values? I bet these ones were a lot easier weren’t they? One of my personal pet peeves is the waning concept of corporate values. All organizations have them, whether they are on a poster/plaque or simply “understood” by the members of the organization. What is important to note is that your corporate values are, in essence, the backbone of your company. They will drive decision-making, group dynamic, rewards and recognition and performance management.
Far too many companies simply post a list of values on the wall, tell employees to know them and understand them and then the leadership team acts in complete contravention of the values! So tell me then, what is the “value” of those values? Far too many companies have spent thousands of dollars on internal marketing campaigns extolling the virtues of their corporate values. They trumpet these values on beautifully laminated posters, brochures and Powerpoint slide decks. However, when it comes time to living those values they simply become a “suggestion” more than the guiding principles on which the company operates. Is there any reason that these values are often passed over by employees with a shrug of the shoulders and eye rolling? Case in point, Enron’s corporate values were communication, respect, integrity and excellence. Now I ask you, how were those values supported by the corporate leadership team….especially the value of “Integrity.” Not so good huh?
The opposite holds true though at companies where the values are always spoken about and where they are used to guide decisions. At these companies, the employees KNOW and understand these values. Take General Electric for instance – their core values of integrity, performance and change have remained constant over the decades. Employees at GE know the values and the organization has remained true to them. Regardless of the various opinions of GE’ s management practices, etc. one cannot argue against how they steadfastly hold true to these core values…..and the ultimate bottom line effect it has had on the company.
Values that permeate throughout an organization serve as a guiding light for its employees. Successful organizations leverage their values and cascade them throughout the company. They transcend into how companies reward their employees, how they develop and promote their employees and if communicated and led properly, your values align with your culture. I hear all the time that culture trumps values; however, I only believe this to be true at organizations where there is a value/culture misalignment. If the leadership team constantly promotes the organizational values and leads by example, (LIVES the values) your values will, in effect, create your culture and both will be aligned.
Companies that live their values will develop and promote their next leaders, first and foremost, based on how they exemplify the corporate values. They will reward behaviours that are displayed that align with the corporate values. Performance increases will be based on results that are obtained in alignment with corporate values. Effective and ethical decision making will occur as a result of values being the guiding hand upon which organizations govern themselves.
To be clear, these values do NOT have to sit on a glamorous poster or be officially posted on an intranet site or annual report in order to exist. Organizations and their leaders that govern themselves with integrity, rewards based on performance and have a culture of continuous improvement actually have all three as their values – unofficially. Or is that officially unofficially? The point being, actions speak louder than words and it is these actions (or inactions) by which organizations are defined. As leaders, managers and even HR professionals, it is up to us to help define, shape, live and hold ourselves organizationally accountable to these values. I challenge you to make your company values more than just a poster on the wall. Lead, live, govern and reward based on them.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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