Pick up any book on organizational culture, effective hiring, or employee retention, and you are sure to read about the critical role of corporate values. Talk to any leader, business owner, individual contributor, and corporate values are one topic they love to speak about. Organizations put them up on websites, frame them, put them up on walls, display them in board rooms, and proudly speak about them in press releases and interviews. Corporate values have become so universal that it’s hard to find any CEO or an organization that doesn’t believe in them.
A research conducted by MIT across 700 companies showed that nearly 80% of the organizations said they had published their corporate values on their websites.
Business leaders and managers spend days and hours debating, discussing, and thinking to formulate their organization’s values. And yet, in many organizations, values are limited to be window dressings or just wall hangings. Employees, partners, and customers hardly know what the organizational values are or don’t actually believe that they are relevant to how they function. Corporate values, in such cases, become a nasty joke.
In this article, we take a deeper look at organizational values – what they are, the different types, and how to ensure that the values are more than just words on the wall.
What are Organizational Values?
Whenever you ask a group of people in a workshop, or a conference about what organization values are, you invariably get to hear words like Equality, Loyalty, Integrity, Respect, Innovation, Teamwork, Efficiency, and so on. At the same time, these sound strong, meaningful, and concise. Research shows that these are the most common set of words used as a part of values and are probably meaningless in most cases. In fact, they have become so common that they might even be a part of your own organizational values. Have you ever wondered how relevant are they, really?
Organizational values or corporate values are a set of abstract ideas that guides employee actions and thinking. Corporate discounts are what shapes your organizational culture and create a sense of commitment in the workplace. Having core company values can help ensure that everyone in the organization - from top leadership to entry-level - share the larger purpose and work towards the same common goal.
76% of employees believe that well-defined business goals help cultivate a positive work culture (Bultin)
Corporate values have a huge impact on both internal and external matters of an organization. They define how employees treat one another within the organization and show how partners, customers, and other parties are treated. However, mere words mean nothing until they are engrained in the company’s practices. After all, actions are always louder than words.
Let’s take the example of Google. One of their fundamental values is “Focus on the user, and all else will follow.” This value is undoubtedly delivered each time you search for something on the google search engine. You will find answers to any question – from the most common to the weirdest – within seconds, and on the first page!
Values are meaningful only when they are expressed through everyday behaviors.
Understanding the Different Types of Organizational Values List
Organizations can benefit from values only when they are defined properly, and their people know exactly what they are talking about and what they are trying to achieve. In an article published by Patrick M. Lencioni in the Harvard Business Review, he speaks about the various organizational values and understands these can help define more precise values.
Core values are the foundation of organizational culture. These are the values that guide the entire organization to conduct themselves and perform under all circumstances. Core values exhibit shared behaviors, beliefs, and attributes within an organization. In a world that is constantly changing and evolving, core values are the ones that remain constant and not change for convenience.
As the name suggests, aspirational values are the ones that define where the organization aspires to reach but are currently lacking. Leaders with great vision often define aspiration values very well, helping the organization achieve the place where “they want to be.”
Permission-to-play values are exactly what the name suggests. These are the values that define the minimum standards of behavior an employee should exhibit. They are not differentiators like core values but defines which kind of employees you shouldn’t be hiring, nor should you tolerate in your organization. For example, you as an organization might not want to encourage dishonest behavior. And not hiring employees who tend to blow up their resumes with exorbitant lies can exhibit the permission-to-play values in your organization.
Accidental values are those values that bubble up unintentionally as an organization grows. They are those unintentionally shared behaviors, attributes, and beliefs that a team exhibits – though not explicitly visible to the employees working for a long time, but are immediately apparent to new team-mates. It can be as simple as how managers communicate with the team or how they celebrate birthdays and special occasions of their teammates.
How to Develop Organizational Values?
When leaders are trying to define corporate values, they forget that the purpose of importance is to inspire positive behaviors and focus more on buzzwords that excite people. Approaching organizational values by merely listing some beautiful-sounding words won’t do any good to the organization. Finding and establishing a proper framework for the organization – that brings everyone together in achieving a more significant purpose is the key.
“The best companies take their core values to heart, challenging themselves every day to ensure they are truly living their values. Likewise, the companies that have core values, but don’t focus on them, often find themselves struggling financially and culturally.” - Rob Dube, Forbes.
1. Don’t Develop Values in Isolation. Involve Employees.
When people are emotionally invested in something, they tend to be more committed to achieving the purpose. The same goes for corporate values. When you take employee inputs on what they like about the organization, where they see it going, etc. While developing the values, employees feel happy about the process and are also more committed to adopting it.
One of the easiest ways to achieve this is by using an open communication channel like an intranet platform. This will facilitate the easy exchange of ideas, thoughts, and opinions between the management and employees through powerful social feeds.
2. Find out where the Values Fit for your Employees
Mapping the various touchpoints across employee lifecycle can help understand the various challenges and nuances and reinforce all organizational values. For example, while hiring any new employees, you can always add questions in the interview process to assess if they exhibit appropriate behaviors to your values.
Once hired, you can also conduct regular surveys and polls to collect feedback and understand how the values make a difference to each employee. How have your values helped the sales teams in talking to the prospects? How are the values making a difference to your support staff while handling customer issues? How will the values work for the call center executives? And so on. In the process, you can identify the different areas where you can embed desired behaviors through values in your organization.
3. Make the Values Easy to understand and remember.
Keep the values as simple as you can. When people find it hard to understand what your organization stands for, they find it hard to stand by them and bring them to life. For Example, Slack uses emojis in their core values to make it simple for their employees to understand and remember. One of Atlassian’s unique values is simple and straight forward – “Don’t f*** the customer.”
4. Model Values and Behaviours
One of the simplest and most effective ways of making your core values effective is to ensure that you work (and play) by your values and not let them be just wall-hangings. Actively live by our values by making it a part of your cultural activities, customer communication, partner engagement, etc. Lead by example – and ensure all leaders are living the values in each of their actions. After all, employees look up to the leaders as role models and consciously or unconsciously absorb their ways and means of working.
Also, assigning role models or buddies to newly hired employees can help them understand and embrace organizational values.
5. Promote Values through Rewards & Recognition
Recognizing and rewarding employees who demonstrate the organizational values and live by them can go a long way in making the deals effective. So never hesitate to reward someone publicly when they exhibit behaviors that uphold your organizational values. It not only makes the employee feel good but also encourages everyone else to follow suit.
Be it through making a grand announcement on the social intranet, or giving your employee a branded gift card, or sending them away for a fun family experience, or just helping them relax in a spa, you can show appreciation in many unconventional ways – encouraging more and more employee to live up to the values.
While almost every organization has given a jab at defining core values, only very few of them succeed in living up to them. Most of the time, they end up being just another window dressing. However, it would help if you remembered that values make a difference only when they are truly converted to actions and each employee lives by them. Simple measures like using intranet platforms, engagement surveys, rewards and recognition engines, etc., can go a long way in making corporate values more effective.
At Xoxoday, we deeply understand the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and engagement drivers of people, be it an employee, supplier, contract staff, gig or consumer. We bring simplicity and continuity to a complex, everyday problem.