Anyone who’s worked on an organisational values exercise knows how painful the process can be. You start out wanting to build something inspirational that truly reflects all that is great about your organisation; instead, you end up in endless wrangles over the right kind of words and ‘what’s the point of this?’ discussions.
What’s more, it can seem like a challenge to successfully embed and live those values as the organisation grows. The secret, as we’ll explain, is to accept that there will always be differences of opinion and have processes to help embed your values into the way you do things – the surest sign that they are being embraced.
Having worked with many organisations on defining their values, we take a realistic approach which means that:
- Some of your values will be aspirational and not a reflection of how it is now - that’s OK
- Some people will disagree with some of the values and won’t behave them - that’s OK (look out for next month’s blog for more on this)
- Some people will not engage with the process of creating them - that’s OK
Values are defining what is important to your organisation, what you care about in HOW you do your work, not necessarily what you do. It’s about verily defining your unique culture. The purpose of defining values is to find a shared code of conduct that is ‘good enough’ for your organisation.
The trigger to defining values
Organisations always have shared values, they happen organically up to a certain size. This happens because people tend to recruit people who are most aligned with how the organisation works and people looking to join companies assess the people for how ‘like me’ they are.
When an organisation gets to a certain size though (usually over 500), it is much harder to be consistent in an organic way and then people start to complain that ‘so and so’ isn’t really a good fit or that people don’t understand our special culture. That’s usually the trigger to define some kind of values. You want to be explicit about something that is currently implicit. It’s easier said than done.
Getting your values into the way you do things
Once the values are defined and launched it can often feel a bit disappointing. People are not very excited about them, they stop talking about them. In a way that’s a good thing as your values should just be part of how you do stuff.
It is not usually necessary for everyone to behave ALL the values, but at the very least they shouldn’t be violating them frequently. However, in cases where there’s an obvious misalignment, you’ll want to take some steps to help integrate them into everything you do.
Here are our values integration tips:
- Language is important, so make sure the language of the values is in all your policies and documentation. A follow up initiative is usually needed to integrate the values, their words, and meanings, into job ladder frameworks, competencies and performance reviews.
- The same goes for verbal communication. Encourage leaders and line managers to share values when appropriate. Generally, it is thought that the higher up people go, the more consciously they should walk the talk.
- Run some values workshops where people can identify their own personal values (very helpful for career planning) and then discuss how they align and don’t align with the organisation. Most people take values too literally and when they explore their own can usually find a way to align themselves. For example, if an organisation has a value of ‘Respect’ and someone is quite forthright, they may believe they can no longer express themselves, but ‘Respect’ is more about ‘how’ than ‘what’ and pretty much anything can be communicated forthrightly and with respect for others.
- Allow space for people to explore how they fit with the values, put the time in your leadership training for leaders to discuss how they feel about them and what works and doesn’t. Don’t be too militant about them or people will lose respect for them. We are all human, after all, you cannot be ‘Inspiring’ 24 hours a day!
- If your values are aligned to performance reviews, be sure that managers are evaluating peoples’ alignment overall and not punishing them for having a few bad days every six months.
Much of the problem with organisational values is that they are ambiguous and subjective, it’s best to own this upfront and then it is possible to define something that truly defines your culture now and in the future.
Organisations evolve as do the people in them. It is not realistic to expect everyone to embrace and share all your values. In truth, you’ll never take everyone with you – but you can certainly support the integration of values by good communication and that’s something that your leaders can play a big part in. Ultimately, values that are not lived will never successfully integrate so, the best way to ensure that your values become ‘the way you do things’ is to practice them.
For further information
Founder of Monkey Puzzle and an INLPTA NLP Master Trainer, Karen is also a UKCP registered Psychotherapist and author of the award winning book Real Leaders for the Real World. Her new book Time Mastery; Banish Time Management Forever is out now.
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