4 ways organizations undermine their own core values

Corporate talk is cheap. To create a thriving culture, make sure your guiding principles are clear—and practice what you preach.

How orgs undermine their core values

Putting values at the center of everything your organization does is the starting point for creating a strong, authentic brand.

Of course, this sort of “values-driven” corporate talk is cheap. As Simon Sinek explained in his TED Talk, it’s not what people do that inspires them—and it’s certainly not what an organization says. Instead, it’s the why (purpose) and how (values) of employees’ work that sparks emotional, genuine engagement.

Putting values into practice

It’s become fashionable for organizations to say they are “values-driven.” Yet, for the stakeholders (employees, customers, service partners, local communities and investors), there is often a gap between aspirational taglines and experienced reality.

Here are four common mistakes that “values-driven” organizations make, along with advice for becoming more authentic.

1. There’s a lack of clarity.

Clarity, in this case, means identifying the true values you stand for and clearly describing what they mean. To gauge the clarity and consistency of your company values, consider:

  • Have the values been decided by just a few senior leaders or a branding or PR agency?
  • Do the words chosen feel completely disconnected from the reality of the organization?
  • Are your core values just a bunch of soulless, ambiguous jargon?
  • Is there confusion about what the values are and what they mean?

If you answered “yes” to any questions above, your values lack clarity—and probably substance.

2. The values exist in theory rather than in practice.

  • Are your values hidden on the website, in a slideshow or on a plaque?
  • To what extent are your values expressed in policies and processes?
  • Are your values referred to when making decisions about the direction and development of the business?
  • Are they reflected in how the organization spends time and resources?
  • How active are leaders in recognizing examples of values-driven behavior?

Core values, vision statements or business missions are useless unless leaders walk the talk—and unless workers are treated in accordance with the values that companies purportedly tout.

3. There’s insufficient assessment of impact.

Abiding by an admirable set of values can boost your bottom line by increasing engagement, retention, recruiting and communication efforts. Consider these questions:

  • To what extent do employees give each other constructive feedback, and is everybody held accountable?
  • How are the perceptions of employees, customers, service partners/suppliers and other stakeholders sought, measured, shared and acted upon?
  • Are the values and culture metrics and achievements publicly reported alongside financial and other business indicators?

Communicators must strive to make the business case for adhering to values that create a healthy, thriving workplace environment.

4. There’s no development mindset.

Instead of remaining stagnant, companies should consistently strive to enhance the ways in which values are lived out and celebrated in the workplace. Consider:

  • Do people take time to reflect on key decisions, consciously referring to the values?
  • What is the approach to learning, individually and collectively, from all the available information (including perceptions) to live the values more fully?
  • How prevalent is open and robust debate in tackling the complexity of competing values?
  • How are policies and processes reviewed and updated to reflect learning?
  • How are findings and updates shared with other organizations and groups—and lessons learned from their experiences?

Committing to a values-driven path

If your company is deficient in even one area listed above, the organization cannot function in a truly values-driven way. The good news: Improvement across the four areas does not involve a huge investment of time, money or other resources.

What it does take is a collective commitment led from the most senior level and throughout the organization, coupled with a relentless determination to follow a values-driven path.

A version of this post first appeared on Culture University.

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