Values – Not Some Philosophical BS

Welcome to the 2nd blog in our Culture Hacker series for 2016. In this blog, I will discuss the importance of values and the fact that they are not some philosophical BS (which are the exact words I have heard used on more than one occasion). While they are dismissed by many managers, I am here to tell you that values might be the single most important cultural mechanism and tool that managers need to be using today if they want to get more out of their associates.

Values are like the ground zero of a culture. They describe how things should be done while showing staff how they can be successful within your company. They define how your staff should interact with the organization, your customers, and their peers. In the previous blog, we defined culture as a mindset or attitude that manifests itself internally. Values – and more importantly the behaviors associated with them – are how you demonstrate that mindset.

They are important, because they help in hiring, driving performance, recognizing your best people, getting rid of those who can’t contribute, making decisions, and driving success. It also energizes and engages your people. Energy is one of the most important things you and your people need in business today. According to SendGrid Co-Founder Isaac Saldana, “With our core values, it’s easy to love coming to work everyday.”

Think of values as the rules of how to play successfully with others in your company. It is not unlike establishing the rules of the sandbox for young children. If the rules aren’t laid out, some new child will cause chaos unintentionally. This is not unlike what is happening in many workplaces with our Millennial workforce. If you don’t define the rule of the sandbox for them when they begin working, then they quickly develop their own rules, upsetting the status quo and more tenured staff members. Does that sound familiar? Having clearly defined values is important for new workers coming into your organization for this reason. Otherwise, they’re just a sign on the wall that doesn’t relate to your team.

With such importance placed in our values, it is surprising how little relevance they are given by managers today. While many managers will indicate their organization has a set of corporate values, they are often no more than some words on a piece of paper placed on a wall. Why is this the case? There are generally four main reasons.

First, employees do not realize your values even exist. To be effective, they need to be seen and utilized in many critical aspects of the organization, such as selecting people, on-boarding people, recognizing people, and knowing who should be there. The next problem we see is there are too many values, so employees have a hard time knowing what is most important. Another problem is they are too vague – people do not know what they mean. There are no tangible and measurable behaviors attached to the values, so they are open to interpretation. If your values are open to interpretation, then it will be hard to utilize them to select, recognize, and hold people accountable.

Values must be observable, tangible, and measurable. The final reason managers place little value (excuse the pun) into them is many times we see values that are outdated, no longer relevant, and that are lip service passed down through generations. As a result, you see owners and senior executives who fail to communicate their actions, beliefs, and support for the organizational values. Without a solid foundation for your culture in some clearly defined values, you will see little structure to your culture, and it will become a collection of ad hoc ideals and functions.

I understand why you may not have been very interested in the past about values. But in today’s work environment, your values can be utilized and leveraged to get the right associates in place, to align their efforts with the needs of the organization, and to elevate their performance – something we all know we should do. So, how do we begin? It starts by having a set of simple, observable, measurable, and relevant values in place.

Second, once you have values you need to incorporate them throughout the organization. Utilize them in the selection process to find culture fit, making them a part of your recognition program where you recognize how things get done (not just how much), and as part of your feedback process – both informally and formally.

The third reason your values aren’t known is because you need to start marketing them. They need to be seen and heard of regularly. Creating some great looking posters, screen-savers, or promotional tools will help ensure the values are front-and-center.

Lastly, you must ensure your managers understand the values and behaviors associated with them. After all, they need to walk the talk and lead by example. Talk about the values passionately and believably, and finally, ensure that how the work is getting done aligns with the organizational way of doing things.

If you want to take charge of your company’s culture, consciously define the values that you want to use to help inspire your people. Use those values as a standard to hire, make decisions, hold people accountable, and share ideas.

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