Where’s the Value in Values?

Nearly 70% of employees say they feel disengaged from their company’s mission, according to recent surveys by the Gallup Group.  Why?  Haven’t we spent enough on employee programs and training?  Don’t they understand where we are going?  Why the lack of commitment?  Well, further research indicates a very strong correlation between the degree of an employee’s commitment/engagement and how strongly their personal values match the values espoused by their employer.

Throughout my career, I have read many business books on subjects such as Leadership, Continuous Improvement or Quality programs and Re-engineering. Many of these publications stated that Values were an essential component of Leadership. However, I just took the term for granted and didn’t explore the subject in-depth.  After all, our organization had a set of Values and they appeared on many posters throughout our facilities, so what else could there be?  Everyone certainly knew what they meant, as they were as common in our understanding as motherhood and apple pie.  They were words like Respect, Service, Accountability, Integrity and Excellence.  As far as I was concerned, we were in compliance with the numerous recipe books for organizational success.

Values certainly seemed to be secondary to Vision and maybe even strategy, but I came to learn of the tremendous power they have for an organization that really uses them.  In fact, Values more than anything else,drive the culture of the company.  Indeed, they are the benchmark by which leadership is measured and the glue that keeps the employees deeply connected to the firm.  Yet, like me, most leaders gloss over them and focus on either the Vision or next quarter’s objectives.

You might be thinking that it is obvious that Values play an important role in culture, so what!  Well, let’s take a minute to define culture; it is the shared beliefs that drive the attitude, thinking and behaviors of the group.  Simple enough, right?  But I would like you to really stop and think about what the attitudes and behaviors of your people are.  Do you know?  What impact do you think attitudes and behaviors have on customer service, teamwork, or productivity?  Are those areas where your company needs to improve? What are the beliefs that drive the attitudes, thinking and behaviors on your team?  Better yet, who set the beliefs you and your leadership team or the people that have been there for years?  Beliefs are an outcome of the Values you espouse, but you probably haven’t really defined what you mean by those Values, and that is a critical step.

In defining Values,often we tend to describe what we mean by the word. However, Values are really only recognized in the behaviors we see others exhibit.  If we see someone behaving in a way that makes us think they are being accountable, we believe they are living in accordance with that Value.  So, it becomes essential that we define the Value in terms of the expected behaviors. Certainly you and your leadership team could do this, but for the average employee this will look like and sound like a forced march. It’s far better for your employees to define those positive behaviors which represent the Values of your Company. Notice that I wrote that employees should determine the behaviors associated with the Values but not the Values themselves.  That is your job!  You and your leadership team need to decide what the Values are that will be essential to you achieving your Vision.

This approach to Values allows you and your employees to jointly build the attitudes, thinking and behaviors that will get you to your Vision.  It energizes your team and makes them accountable.  It increases their level of engagement to the organization and its goals.  It also forms the basis for a new methodology in performance measurement for your leaders, managers and supervisors.  In other words, this provides the foundation for “walking the talk.”  You will now have very clear and precise descriptions of the behaviors that leaders should model and you can measure them to provide feedback in the leadership development process.

Values become the driving force of a constructive culture and that means increased accountability, satisfaction and profitability.  So, are you getting Value from your Values?