7 Steps to Bring Values to the Center of Your Organization
Are the values of your organization living, breathing principles that all company leaders and employees uphold? Or are they just words on a piece of paper? Your organization’s values – when consistently put into action – define the culture. When all members of the organization live the core values, the organization projects a brand of integrity to employees and the outside world.
All organizations have a culture, whether or not the culture is intentionally created and nurtured. Some cultures create a work place where employees love to work and customers and clients enjoy doing business. Other organizations develop into toxic environments where employees don’t thrive and become disengaged, and results suffer. Organizations can create productive and positive cultures by deliberately defining values and ensuring those values form the basis for decision-making and action among all employees.
Your organization’s values – when consistently put into action – define the culture
When our actions are consistent with our values, we are in integrity. When an organization has adopted sound values, each employee finds that he or she is working alongside others who share and uphold the same values. Organizations that live their values are places where individuals are proud to work. Businesses known for their values tend to be highly respected and sought-after places to work. They also are very successful companies.
The 2012 Great Place to Work® Institute report claims the stock price growth of the 100 firms with the most ethical cultures outperformed stock market and peer measures by almost 300 percent.
How your company values can become the core of the organization:
1. Clearly identify your organizational values
Make sure the values are clear and understandable to everyone in the organization from the Board and the CEO, to the custodian. Leadership determines values and principles, but it is good practice to engage all members of the organization to get input, feedback, and acceptance. Values are not consensus-driven, but engagement is important to gain buy-in.
2. Leadership models the values
Consistency and sincerity are the keys to upholding values. Values become the core of the organization and are fully embraced when leaders set the tone, refer to them frequently and model them in their actions.
3. Describe values in terms of actions
Making the values actionable helps all employees gain clarity on what it looks like to embody the value in practice. Example: If open communication is one of your values, you might include one descriptor as: everyone in the organization, regardless of position, is responsible for sharing their perspective on improvements.
4. Incorporate specific actionable items into each person’s job description that represent the values
If Customer Service is one of your organization’s values, the receptionist might have in his/her job description: Treat all interactions with respect, warmth, and helpfulness. React and respond to requests quickly; focus on going above and beyond.
5. Make the values part of performance conversations
During informal conversation as well as more formal annual reviews, emphasize the values. Ask how individuals are furthering the values of the organization. Share how you’ve seen that individual employee model a value.
6. Make hiring, promotion and firing contingent on living the values
Ensure the right people are working there. Make sure potential new hires are in alignment with the values. Ask specific questions that illuminate how they have handled value-laden situations in the past. Hold all members of the organization accountable for upholding the values. Take action if an employee’s behavior is contrary to a core value. Provide specifics to explain how an individual is not upholding a particular value and give recommendations for correction. If an employee’s behavior consistently fails to uphold the organization’s values, termination might be the best option.
Employees who are not aligned with the values can have a negative influence on the rest and begin to corrode the culture. A team made up of individuals with shared values has an advantage over a team with less coherence. Employee alignment with the organization’s beliefs and values is key to a thriving organization.
7. Regularly reinforce, acknowledge, and recognize good examples of living the values
Acknowledge employees who demonstrate the values. Let them know what you saw and how you and the company were impacted. Be specific. An example: If one of the company’s values is Integrity, after a member of the team made a challenging hiring decision, you might say, “I know that was a tough decision. You were pulled in many directions. I’m proud of you for making a decision that you believe is the right one for the company and all of us who work here. You showed a tremendous amount of integrity. I know I can trust you to make decisions that put the best interest of the organization first.”
A few examples of companies that live their core values:
- Zappos. Zappos has received a lot of attention for their core values – “Deliver WOW through service”, Create fun” and “Be Humble” (are 3 of their 10 values). Zappos takes those values seriously and has developed strategies to ensure employees live the values in everything they do. Because it is known as a great place to work, Zappos receives many more applications from highly qualified individuals than they can hire. If they find an applicant to be self-centered and arrogant, regardless of other qualifications and talents, they don’t hire that individual. Humility is a strong value of Zappos.
- Southwest Airlines. Similarly to Zappos, Southwest Airlines filters new hires by their values. Their core values are “a warrior spirit, a servant’s heart, and a fun-luving attitude”. (That’s how they spell “love”.) If potential candidates don’t demonstrate enthusiasm, or are not outgoing and friendly, they won’t be hired regardless of their other qualifications. Southwest Airlines has been a profitable company for more than 40 consecutive years.
- Maple Leaf Food. In 2008, Maple Leaf Food was implicated in a foodborne illness caused by an outbreak of Listeria. One of their values is “Do What’s Right: By acting with integrity, behaving responsibly and treating people with respect.” CEO Michael McCain immediately apologized and took full responsibility for fixing the problem.
If you are interested in finding out whether employees know and live the values of an organization, ask them what the values are. If they spontaneously and enthusiastically describe them, those values are well incorporated throughout the organization. If you ask employees for specifics in how the values are enacted, you will get a clear picture of what the organization stands for.
Why it matters
We live by a set of rules (whether or not we have intentionally defined them) that influence the choices we make and how we behave. If we spend the time needed to define our values, we enhance our ability to live consistently with our chosen values and to lead a life of integrity.
In an organization where core values are explicit and everyone lives by them, employees are more engaged and loyal, retention rates are higher and the results are extraordinary.
According to Kenneth Majer, author of Values-Based Leadership: A Revolutionary Approach to Business Success And Personal Prosperity, “Leading world-class organizations have cultures that are driven by core values.” Organizations with strong values at the core of how they conduct business end up with happy employees, delighted customers and clients, and a strong bottom line.
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