Key elements of the work world and of the world itself have been thrown into the blender. The COVID crisis. Work at home and the slow transition to coming back. Digital meetings. Fractured supply chains. The worldwide economic downturn. The widespread protests against racism. So much volatility, uncertainty.
In light of these challenges, do your organization’s values still provide adequate guidance and direction for how everyone — leaders and non-leaders alike — should conduct themselves in the workplace to create and sustain a healthy and high-performance culture?
One more time — Why are values important?
Values. A set of beliefs or principles that help organizations define what they stand for and which are intended to provide guidance for the daily actions of its members. An articulated credo about what is important. Typical values might include teamwork. Customer orientation. Collaboration. Respect. Excellence. We all have a personal set of values either implicit or explicit. So do organizations.
Of course, this presupposes the values are more than PR platitudes nicely framed on the wall or strategically placed on a web site home page under the “About Us” tab. It’s not about the words themselves, it’s about whether they serve as guideposts for choices, for decisions, for behaviors.
True values-driven organizations find ways to imbed those values into some of their systems and processes like their selection system. Their performance management system. Their promotion and recognition system. Values can be thought of as being inspirational and aspirational. That is, you are always working toward them — you are never all the way there.
Values provide a common language for associates to hold themselves and others accountable. And true values-driven organizations make it clear by their actions that getting results but not living the values is unacceptable and can get someone invited to find another employer.
So, in this now “VUCA” world (Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity; Ambiguity) [see my recent article on “VUCA in the COVID World” here] do your company’s values [still] provide helpful guidance for doing the right things? When the business environment changes, effective companies conduct a strategy refresh to see what needs to be adjusted for better alignment to that new organizational context. Like strategies, values are not timeless “one and done” artifacts. They need periodic reexamination, especially in times like these.
For example, are values like diversity and inclusion — both very topical but also very nuanced — addressed in a way that provide guidance both within the organization as well as outside? Do values that address the customer account for the potential new normal for how business get transacted from a distance and a tilt toward more video-based relationships?
Suggested Do’s and Don’ts for a Values Refresh
- Do involve different levels of the organization in appropriate ways. This is not something that can be delegated to the masses nor restricted to the senior leaders. Conducting focus groups or mixed employee panels can be an effective way of creating dialogue. Involvement usually builds commitment.
- Do be clear on setting expectations for the scope of the work and desired outcomes. Senior management should be looking for advisory ideas and recommendations and owns the decision about what to adopt or revise.
- Do communicate the rationale for suggested changes to be adopted as well as suggested changes which will not be adopted.
- Don’t assume there needs to be radical changes made to the values. Perhaps a major overhaul is needed but tweaks and new additions might be appropriate as well.
- Don’t mistake the company values for an employee handbook and try to craft overly proscriptive and air-tight statements. Values are by definition aspirational ideals whereas a handbook should clearly define legal and ethical rules and policies.
- Don’t forget that people are notorious boss watchers and when senior leaders fail to regularly demonstrate the values it will signal to the associates that those values are just words on a page.
Revisiting and possibly refreshing your organization’s values in this VUCA era helps ensure shared purpose. It’s worth the effort. As the comic strip character Pogo once said: “We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.”
About the author: Mike Hoban is a leadership coach and advisor who also writes about business topics, sometimes in a whimsical way. In addition to his 35+ years experience as a leader, consultant and business owner he has also published extensively in Fast Company and also wrote a business column for 12 years. Many of his recent commentaries — including several about leading during the COVID crisis — can be found on his LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-hoban-b5756b6/ He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.