Confusion and cynicism

Posted by Dave on October 31, 2013  /   Posted in Values


To me, the most important aspects of business success are based around culture and values. While undertaking strategic planning where the core values of the business had not been defined I was challenged by the Board of Directors in the relevance for my pursuit in wanting to define the organisations core values. Why did we need to spend time on this “fluffy stuff” when there was real work to be done? This came as quite a shock to me because I thought these learned men knew all this stuff, after all, they were the leaders. But deep down I knew we had to get these things into the open so we could put them up the flag pole and pledge our allegiance to them every day.

What are values? What is culture?

These are an interesting set of questions. Culture has been defined as “the way we do things around here”. OK so what? Well, the “so what” has quite marked implications when it comes to employee engagement and goal congruence. You see, in his book Good to Great, Jim Collins was fast to point out that the key to successful companies, the ones that rose from Goodness to Greatness, (and greatness being defined as enduring value i.e. the organisation became a legacy that survived generations) was having the right employees in the organisation to start with. Ergo, in order to employ the right employees you need to understand, shape and define the culture your business needs to be building. That is “the way we do things around here” must be more than an esoteric opinion that is reformulated depending on the place employees sit within the organisation. Where there is a disaggregation of the core fundamentals upon which the organisation was founded then the true potential of the organisation is neither released nor realised.   Jim Collins also wrote in his book How the Mighty Fall “Instead of passionately believing in the organisations core values and purpose, people become distrustful, regarding visions and values as little more than PR and rhetoric.” which confirms my belief that unless you are aligned and “buy-in” to the organisations core values, well, you’re just going to be a square peg in a round hole and at some stage in the future you are going to have to don your parachute and jump!

So Values…

I did an internet search (as you do) and found one site with a list of 418 values on it, and the authors claimed it was not by any means an exhaustive list. Funnily though it listed “surprise” as a value; this made me laugh because in business (or any business I have been in) “surprise” was the last thing you wanted lol. My point here is that values are unique, varied and apply to your organisation in isolation to every other organisation.

I was discussing a business with an accountant recently (I know, it was a difficult thing).   I asked him what the company’s values were.    To which he replied “Oh no, we haven’t valued the business yet.”    I said, “No, what are the organisational values?” to which he replied again (through gritted teeth) “WE HAVEN”T DONE THAT YET! The company has just merged with another company and we haven’t assessed its market value yet!!!”     “No, you don’t seem to understand.” I replied “What are the core beliefs of the business…their Values?”    “Oh” he said, “…we haven’t done that.”    I figured he actually had no idea what I was on about.

Which is my point exactly. Unless you have purposefully gone through the exercise with all your key people of influence (not only line managers but informal leaders as well) within your organisation, you won’t stand a snowballs chance in hell of getting your values defined or disseminated throughout your organisation. And why do you want your values cascading through the organisation, so that you have everyone aligned and moving in the same direction. Having the CEO or Board of Directors define the values in isolation to the employees is a move doomed to failure.

You see, you can’t impose your values onto another person. Values are personal. But people can share the same values. For example a not-for-profit organisation in the religious sector can proclaim as its core value that it is Christian which should be notice to all that if you don’t subscribe to that core belief or value then chances are you won’t really fit into that organisation. It really is that simple.

Values have to be lived and breathed – living values. Values can’t be reset to something else next year like a trend or a fashion but values do evolve over time. Core Values never change.  Can’t pay lip service to values, they shouldn’t be a trite list of honesty, integrity, respect, collaboration for example. Values need to be defined in specific terms to the organisation i.e. what does honesty really look like in how we act and behave in MY organisation? Define each of the values in those terms and you will then be able to deliver those definitions to the broader organisation.

There is no need for a list of over 400 values to define your organisational culture, a simple list of 4 or 5 would surpass. In one business I was in one of the four values we created was “Do it! – right first time” but behind this it was defined as Accuracy, Safety, Discipline, Compliance, Sense of Urgency, Pride, Professionalism, Quality and Meeting Customers’ Expectations. For me this was awesome, this was something that people could align to and move forward with, together. We all knew the attributes of the values.

So culture and values are inextricably linked…they can’t be separated, they must be defined and formally articulated so that existing and prospective employees can subscribe to them. You hire new people who already have a predisposition to your core values, complimenting those employees that are in that space and collectively they will add the most value to the organisation that they can.

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