We often visit organisations with clearly articulated values. They’re easy to spot, they have posters with the values on in reception, and often employees each have a handy little credit card sized version of them to carry around. Some even wear their security passes on values embossed lanyards.
We occasionally visit organisations with a well embedded set of corporate values. They sometimes have those values on posters, but what is striking is that the people throughout the organisation exhibit those values all the time in everything they do.
The second type of organisation is far less common. We often find that values are simply seen as a marketing or HR project that will go away sometime next year when the next initiative is launched. We’ve experienced selfish sales behaviour rewarded in companies with ‘Teamwork’ as a core value, and incredible rudeness and discrimination as the norm in an organisation with ‘Valuing All Our People’ printed on the mugs on everyone’s desks.
So how do organisations make the transition from laminating their values to really living them?
We’ve found that an important early step is to express those values in behavioural terms, making clear how those values can become a part of everyone’s role at every level of the organisation, every day. This allows people to think about how they can personally make a difference.
Another key feature of organisations that really live values is open discussion about them. This can be hard to engender, particularly where upward challenge is not the norm. An effective route to activating debate is 360° feedback around the values behaviours, giving people a structured and safe way to give and receive objective, behaviourally based feedback. Once people begin talking about values based behaviours, they quickly engage with them and build the confidence to challenge not only the behaviour of others, but what they personally are doing in values terms.
360° feedback also gives the organisation a view of its collective strengths and areas for development, allowing targeting of interventions, and identifying any pockets of excellence.