Are Your Corporate Values Just Wall-Art For Your Conference Room?

Are Your Corporate Values Just Wall-Art For Your Conference Room?

While Mission is the “reason for being” of a firm, the organization’s clearly stated Values are supposed to define critical behaviors, offer context for decision-making and generally serve as bedrock for defining culture.  And like Mission descriptions, the Values are often collections of lofty thoughts that are so far removed from the minds and actions of employees as to be nearly useless.

I survey (either in writing or by show of hand) management audiences on the meaningfulness and utility of their firm’s Values.  It is rare to find groups where more than 20% are either positive or very positive that their firm’s Values are widely used to define and enforce acceptable behavior.  Even fewer individuals indicate having been trained on the meaning and use of the firm’s Values in their day-to-day activities. (Note from Art, take the anonymous 2-question Values Poll in the sidebar here at Management Excellence and see the cumulative feedback from all respondents immediately!)

Four Common Problems and Solutions:

1.  Values statements are often generic lists of well-intentioned, positive virtues.   There is nothing actionable or tangible to help guide decision-making.

Solution: make the Values as specific as possible.  For example, one firm’s “Never let a profit center conflict get in the way of doing what is right for the customer,” is actionable, while a more common variant, “We exist to serve the customer” is not.  Sharpen your Value statements until they are tangible, meaningful and actionable.

2.  Senior leaders define the Values without employee input.

Solution: defining or revising Values should include input and ideas from across the organization.  One way to make the desired cultural and behavioral norms tangible for everyone is to let employees help define them.

3.  Values, like Mission statements are viewed as something reserved for a handsome plaque hung in the lobby or a conference room.

Solution: Values should be brought to life through internal education and constant reinforcement.  Publicize the reinforcement.

4.  Values are not leveraged as a powerful management tool.

Solution: a firm’s Values are incredibly powerful in identifying and selecting new hires, deciding on promotions, resolving conflicts and deciding on proper courses of actions.  Teach managers to leverage the firm’s Values as part of their decision-making process.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Instead of frowning at the vagueness of the concept of Corporate Values, recognize that individuals and teams perform best when they embrace their mission, understand the tools and approaches that they should take to get there and have input into defining the roadmap.  Strong, clear and tangible Value Statements are part and parcel of creating a high-performance culture.