I consulted to a small biotechnology company recently that wanted to make certain it was acting consistently with its stated values. The company was proud of its values, which included honesty, dependability, teamwork, and work-life balance. Management spoke of these values when they recruited new employees and at many of their employee meetings. The values were printed and framed and hung on many of the office walls. They were also written into the company handbook. They became a mantra for the organization, and were successfully used to recruit many highly principled scientists.
Eventually, however, some employees became concerned that the company was not fully living up to these values. For example, one of the stated values was to create an environment where employees are able to maintain a good balance between their work and their personal lives. The company had started to hold some meetings after hours and on weekends. Not surprisingly, employees questioned whether balance was still truly important.
When learning that some employees were questioning the company's commitment to its values, management asked us to survey their employees to anonymously learn about their concerns, assess the magnitude of the problem, and advise management how to get back on course.
During the past few years many organizations have identified and codified their corporate values. They serve as a statement of what the company really stands for and how they intend to conduct their business. Organizations use these values in a number of ways, including:
Referring to them when making important decisions.
Communicating them to employees so that everyone is working within the same general mindset.
Communicating them to customers to try to differentiate the organization from its competitors.
Explaining them to potential new hires to attract them to the organization.
Organizations should be commended for establishing and clearly stating their values. The problem, however, is that some employees often view the corporate values as merely "words-on-the-wall" company propaganda that have little or no bearing on how day-to-day business is conducted.
THE PROBLEM FOR EMPLOYERS
If employees perceive that the stated company values are not being lived up to by the organization, they will become cynical and less trusting of management. Trust is like a spider web. It is very difficult to build but can be destroyed with a single swipe. When trust in management is damaged, employee motivation declines.
WHAT TO DO
- Involve Others in
Establishing the Company Values
Corporate values should be established with input from employees, customers, stockholders, and other major constituents of the organization.
- Management Must
Commit to the Values
It starts at the top. Senior management must be committed to the company's values. They must think about them when they make important decisions for the organization and refer to them when they explain why these decisions were made.
- Set Realistic
Management should communicate to employees that everyone should strive to act consistently with the values but that it may not always be possible. For example, there may be times when holding a meeting on a weekend is unavoidable and an exception must be made.
- Keep Your Company
Organizations continuously change due to changes in the goals of the company and the environment in which it operates. The company's values must sometimes be revised to remain consistent with current reality. Some values may no longer be applicable and new values may now be more appropriate.
- Continuously Monitor
How Well You are Living the Values
Management should regularly set aside time on its agenda to self-assess how well the values are being lived. Employees should also be periodically surveyed to assess how well they believe the company is living up to its values and what it needs to do to act more consistently with them.
Codifying the corporate values can be very beneficial for an organization. The values can serve as the bedrock upon which the organization bases its actions and decisions. The key, however, is committing to living up to the values on a daily basis.