The ‘Value’ Culture

While working across the board with over 50 organizations and 12 industries, I have always heard employee’s complaint of favoritism, or inconsistency in decision-making, or lack of fairness. This constant cribbing gets to me at times; I can only wonder what it does to the poor HR people!

I am looking at only one side of the story here, the employee’s side, I am sure there is an organizational perspective to justify whatever, but hey, this side is a big one and it is hard not to choose it over others.

I do wonder if you have ever faced this challenge. If so, the problem – and the solution – may be your organization’s values.

On its face, identifying values to guide workplace behaviors and decisions seems reasonable, productive, and highly desirable. Yet such values may, in fact, be detrimental to the organization’s health. In fact, unless managers go beyond merely identifying organizational values, unintended negative outcomes are likely to occur.

For example: An organization where honesty is fostered; maybe pushed too hard, processes become so stringent that they begin to hamper its growth by reducing flexibility. Or for that matter, too much focus on fairness and equality will not let two colleagues with minor hierarchical differences to work together; they will simply be scared that ‘what it might look like?’

The fact that values are subjective is the reason they may be detrimental to organizational health. To take this discussion further, let’s take the value of ‘Integrity’ as an example. Each of us has a “picture” of what integrity looks like. That picture varies from person to person – and in fact, often is very fuzzy. We tend to think, “I’ll know integrity when I see it.” That’s not good enough: when the pictures vary, so do the judgments of who is acting with integrity and who is not.

You and I could argue all day about whether someone has acted with – or without – integrity without reaching agreement because we’re arguing about a subjective concept. In order for us to resolve this argument, we have to agree on specific behaviors that demonstrate “integrity” so we have a more objective way of assessing the extent to which someone’s behaviors and decisions reflect this value.

I wonder whether it might cover the flight of good intentions from an employee and make him look like being an ‘Asslicker’ (Sorry for the language, the last I checked, this is what we used!)

The impact of such situations can have a life-long effect on the people and the culture of any organization

Hence, there are very real costs to the organization when employees perceive a disparity between stated values and actual behaviors.

Based on this discrepancy, employees might conclude that management is inconsistent, unfair, and shows favoritism.

They may experience feelings such as disillusionment, anger, betrayal, disappointment, confusion, and distrust. An organization that articulates values sets the expectation that its managers’ behaviors and decisions will reflect those values.

What if this can’t happen because employees and managers define values differently? In addition to the above negative outcomes, we can expect low morale, decreased trust, and increased cynicism.

Yes, managers are expected to demonstrate these values, but new managers, new to the role, the team, the task or to the company will find it hard to demonstrate a set of mnemonics he or she barely remembers. In my book, it’s not too much of a fault for them too.

We can maximize the likelihood that employees’ expectations will be met by identifying specific behaviors that indicate people are acting with integrity, having conversations around those behaviors, and distinguishing clearly between desirable and undesirable behaviors.

For example, I would characterize people as acting with integrity when they engage in the following behavior:

– Do what they say they’ll do.
– Tell the truth.
– Make decisions based on stated criteria and logic (e.g. Work    allocation,        promotions, appraisals).
– Hold themselves accountable for their behaviors.
– Hold others accountable for their (others’) behaviors.
– Admit their mistakes and take responsibility for them.

Once we have identified and communicated the behaviors represented by the value of integrity, we can have a productive conversation.

NOW we’re getting somewhere!

Here are nine steps to ensure that your organization’s values are not detrimental to its health:

1. Identify a few values that support the strategic goals and define them at the organization level.

2. Have, Invest in developing people based on their natural value sets or hire based on it, managers and employees collaborate on personalizing those values – i.e. identify specific behaviors that demonstrate each value and groom people who demonstrate them more.

Note: Examples of specific behaviors may change at different levels. All behaviors should be consistent with the organization’s definition of each value so there is alignment up and down the organization. For reference, you can look at the Affective Domain of the Bloom’s Taxonomy – ‘RRVOI’

i.e. Level 1(Frontline) audiences are mostly stuck at the first R-Receiving & R-Responding, Level 2 audiences (Middle Management) take it mostly to V-Valuing and if done with care even O-Organizing. Only the Level 3(Senior Management) can be and should be deemed capable of I-Internalizing the organizational values.

3. Communicate the behaviors through multiple media. Don’t just share the values. Break it down for those who don’t think.

4. Incorporate the values and their respective behaviors into the performance management process – for managers as well as for employees. State what behaviors you WANT, rather than those you don’t want.

5. Ensure all systems support the values and do not punish desired behaviors (e.g., when teamwork is a value, rewards are based on team behaviors rather than on individual behaviors).

6. Provide training as necessary (e.g., how to identify relevant behaviors, how to evaluate behaviors, how to give and receive constructive feedback).

7. Reward/recognize people whose behaviors demonstrate the values.

8. Take corrective action when behaviors violate the values.

9. Ensure that managers consistently model the desired behaviors.

What percent of your employees can identify your organization’s values?

How many of those individuals can tell you what each value “looks like” in terms of their own performance?

Unless you are able to answer nearly 100%, you may want to consider taking the above steps to improve the health of your organization. End of the day, it takes more than an apple to keep the doctor away.