Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Are Organizational Values that Important?

I had a colleague ask me, "Why do we need organizational values? Our employees know what we are about." It did make me stop and think for a minute.

I then ran across this blog on organizational goals and beliefs.

I then realized what my subject was for this week...

I agree that when you enter an organization you can learn by observing. In other words, you can tell what is acceptable and what the company values by watching people's actions. The problem with this is when people DON'T act in a way that benefits the organization. Also, some people just aren't that adept in reading into behaviors and determining what values are being represented.

I really believe that expectations should be very explicit, very clear and known by everyone in the organization. Don't leave anything to guesswork as when people don't have a point of reference, they do what they think is best at the time. (Think Wall Street melt down, Concordia Ship wreck and Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.)

So, you can probably tell that I feel that is very important to have stated organizational values. Not the ones that are the nice to hear, like integrity, excellence, and customer focused. But the ones that really describe the guts of your organization and why you are special.

If I had to list some for our company they would be:

1) Nimble, can react to needs quickly
2) Flexible, can change on a dime
3) Customized approach to solutions
4) Entrepreneurial, always reinventing ourselves
5) Creative, use newest techniques
6) FUN!

Ok, now I have written them down.

It's important that we select those values that resonate with our employees and customers. It's why I believe we have been successful for almost 15 years and that we have clients that have been with us for 14 years.

So, what do you say? YES to values or NO, don't bother?

Also, what are the implications for HR if values are not stated?


Derek Irvine said...

Cathy, great to read this and connect with you again (and thanks for the link back to my post on TLNT). You know I couldn't agree with you more on the importance of values. One thing I often call out is the difference between stated values and tolerated values (we can SAY what we value, but often we tolerate an entirely different thing).

That's why consistent recognition and praise of employees who are living the values is critical. In that way, employees can learn and grow from positive feedback (both their own and what they see being given to their peers) for those who are actually living the desired values in their daily work.

As always, great work, and thanks for continuing this very important conversation.

Eric Brinson, SPHR said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughtful reflections, Cathy.

Having a commonly held set of values gives a team the fundamental baseline that one can fall back to when faced with a tough decision.

One of U.S. Lumber's values is "do the right thing - even when it is hard". We often repeated that very statement when trying to assess the correct course of action. For example, making the decision to cut staff due to economic pressures was difficult, but it certainly was the right thing to do to protect the greatest number of jobs.

Corporations do not have values. The people that run them do.

Culture cannot be declared, but a culture emerges from a commonly held set of values. The values that the CEO has internalized will be mirrored by the entire organization. When a CEO makes a decision using the basis of 'doing the right thing', others within the organization will start to do the same thing.

Values are incredibly important to communicate. Leadership needs to have language that will communicate the values to those that they are bringing onto the team.

Leadership should write their values down in bite-size nuggets. Most values systems can be described in a few lines that will be easy to memorize and readily recall.

Best Regards,
Eric Brinson, SPHR

Unknown said...

Thanks Eric and Derek for reading. Good to hear from both of you.

It was interesting that both of you talked about values being written down. I think that is so important. If values are left to guesswork, employees may or may not have the same perception of what the values really are.

I love the "do the right thing, even when it is hard" that really speaks volumes.

Have a great week.