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A Value Proposition

March 11, 2011

Recently I’ve been having some conversations with team members and other interested parties about “corporate values” – what they are, how we define them, how we live them, and how we ensure workplace behaviors/actions are in alignment with corporate values.  I find it fascinating to take a look at workplace culture from this angle.

A workplace, obviously, is filled with a variety of people – all of whom bring their individual values into the mix.  Being an ever evolving and changing organism, that workplace “mix” changes as people come and go.  New members inevitably join the team and when they do there’s quite possibly a new set of values entering the group.  (Of course, interviewing for alignment with values is a key component, but that’s for another post).

Sadly, sometimes the espoused corporate values are fluff, double-talk, or nonsense pulled together by a handful of executives, a marketing team or consultants.  I recall, quite a few years ago, sitting in a building lobby waiting for a scheduled appointment and glancing at a glossy brochure that proclaimed corporate values of compassion and communication and caring.  And then being treated rudely and inconsiderately by every glum-faced employee with whom I came in contact.

The most obvious challenge for the organization is to have corporate values that are real and meaningful and TRUE.  Don’t tell me your #1 value is integrity right after a few of your top execs are splashed across the headlines for shady business-dealing.  And if you tell me “We’re all about TRUST” and then your standard practices include commanding, controlling and hovering over every employee action…well, it may be time to take a look in the nearest dictionary.

It’s critical, of course, as a job-seeker or employee to think, long and hard, about personal beliefs and values before joining up with an organization.  Completing a personal values inventory is important – do you know what’s important to YOU?  What are the standards and principles that drive you or influence you to take action?  Sure, when you  need-a-job, sometimes you think most any job will do.  But when I was recruiting for jobs in the Casino industry (previous gig), I didn’t get a lot of job applicants who used to work for Jimmy Swaggert (literally down the road).  Probably a good thing that applicants did a personal inventory and self-selected themselves “out” of any piece of the process. (No jokes needed about Jimmy Swaggert Ministries and the mis-alignment of values).

Ultimately, when corporate values are real and meaningful and employees are aligned with those values – it will show.  Actions and behaviors will clearly demonstrate the reality of day-to-day activities and operating principles.

I enjoy an intriguing exercise such as this.  The opportunity to discover something new; explore and solve a big question.  Perhaps a personal value on MY list.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2011 7:12 am

    Thanks Robin. Fully agree. I wrote a blog called ” Whose values are they anyway?” Consistency of application and a clear understanding is fundamental. How many though are embedded into Performance evaluations? There is as you say lots of talk and yet, the very people who say this is a given in their business treat different levels within their organization differently. Also beware the external recruiters- ask them this question and few if any could articulate what they seek in this arena from a candidate!

  2. March 11, 2011 9:15 am

    Great post Robin and I really like how you suggest that before joining an organization, one takes a long hard look at their own values and how well they align to the company.

    You bring up an important point around the fluffy factor and values created in vacuums or for the sheer purpose of marketing to draw new employees and customers. They will fail most of the time because in reality they are programs designed to achieve short term results and not long-term changes in habits and behaviors that effect actual experiences people have with the company inside and out.

    It’s so easy to market values. But there are huge differences in positioning a value within a brand promise and taking the time to define it in actionable terms then educate, communicate, recognize, coach and reinforce attitudes and behavior consistent with those values (and outcomes) — daily.

    The examples you shared are a perfect representation of surface-level tactics and how not to live a value. It’s teaching the how *to* that’s key. To Peter’s point, there’s an opportunity to reinforce behaviors and values in every performance review. But even so, waiting for the performance review doesn’t do well to reinforce value behaviors daily.

    With clear definition and examples of what good behavior looks like, how it gets recognized and why it’s important, people will be come more aware of their actions and mindful to change them over time.

    Without positive feedback and reinforcement, it’s likely they’ll fall back into the actions and experiences they’ve become accustomed to – habits deeply embedded in the culture. This is often a mirror example of how they see others being treated and how they themselves are treated by peers and/or leaders over time.

    Monkey see. Monkey do. Change is hard.

  3. March 11, 2011 10:48 am

    We’re in the process of taking a fresh approach to our service values in my organization. We pulled together 60 front line staff, and added 10 parents whose children were patients, and had that group identify what our service standards should be going forward. It was a great experience, and kept the focus on what’s important and real; not what might look good posted on a wall. Great post.

  4. March 11, 2011 1:07 pm

    Hi Robin

    Really enjoyed reading this post and it’s definitely got me thinking. Forming and articulating the values of an organisation in a way that everyone can relate to is a real challenge, but can also be hugely rewarding. I know we haven’t got this right yet and I’d love to hear more examples of where it’s been done successfully and what difference it’s made – I’m certain it would be very powerful.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  5. Robin Schooling permalink*
    March 12, 2011 8:58 am

    Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts. It’s clear we all agree that it’s mission-critical to explore and examine values for your organization. I think as 2011 moves along, I may have some real-life experiences to share around this topic (exciting!).

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