There’s a big push in companies today to create healthy cultures. Many organizations go through detailed processes to identify where culture is going astray and dive into implementing tactics, including defining company values. The problem is too many companies create values without meaning.
Organizational Values Only Work When Tied to Behaviors
Written values are often vague and ignored. Many companies have nice-sounding values, such as “integrity”, “respect”, “communication” and “excellence”. But these values mean nothing without the behaviors to underline and reinforce them. (As a side note, Enron had those same ‘values’ displayed in their lobby).
Actual values are behaviors. Behaviors which are true to the organization today, but can also continually improve and grow. These behaviors have significance to the organization – where without it, the culture wouldn’t be the same. These behaviors need to be distinct and genuine – generic values are meaningless.
Take, for example, the value of “excellence”. What does excellence mean? How does excellence manifest into a series of behaviors? How does excellence impact not only customers but employees? What does excellence look like for each and every department? Is it the same or different? What kind of excellence is important (i.e. work quality, work efficiency, etc.)? This is the fundamental problem with generic values – they lack structure, meaning, relevance and most importantly, impact. Alternatively, think about framing that vague value as a behavior, such as “selflessness”.
This word has much more meaning. It’s something you can do and be. While open to interpretation, uniform examples can be provided to clarify the behavior, such as “be open-minded” and “make time to help others” which provides a broader framework for selfless behavior. This behavior becomes something that can be held up as an example across roles and departments, and even integrated into employee performance reviews.
The real values of a company are shown by who gets rewarded or let go. The real values of a company are reflected in the behaviors of each and every person within the organization. You can’t simply create your “values list” and call it a day. Your values shape your organizational culture, your hiring practices, and much more. Values are too important to simply be a display in your lobby. They drive culture, and at their core are behaviors.
One of the hottest topics in business today is the concept of “diversity and inclusion”. Many of the organizations we work with lament about their challenges in this area, stressing their need to “get more diverse” and struggle to build a more diverse workforce. They talk about needing “more representation of minorities” and ask about “recruitment techniques” to help bolster their ranks.
One problem with this is these organizations aren’t looking at diversity and inclusion as a strategy, but rather a “checkbox”. Do we have folks on our team from this group or that? Yes? Check, check. This is not the intent of the concept, but rather to bring together a broad set of ideas, perspectives, experiences, cultures, and more – to see and accept things from new lenses to better connect with growing audience diversity.
Another problem is that “diversity” and “inclusion” are so often lumped together that they’re assumed to be the same thing. But that’s just not the case. In the context of the workplace, diversity equals representation. Without inclusion, however, the crucial connections that attract diverse talent, encourage their participation, foster innovation, and lead to business growth won’t happen. Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. And diversity alone doesn’t drive inclusion. In fact, without inclusion there’s often a diversity backlash.
Organizations need to think less about “getting diverse” and “being inclusive” and more about understanding the “why”, and developing a strategy for diversity and inclusion within their organizational cultures.
While we may think training is the answer, traditional diversity programs often do not work, and recent research shows that they can even have a negative effect on diversity outcomes. That is, they may actually lead to less diversity within the organization. If that’s not bad enough, the training may even reinforce stereotypes about a particular race or gender.
Organizations instead, need to focus on culture, defining a strategic plan to build, foster and reinforce the behaviors and mindset of inclusiveness, openness, and equity. Utilizing that strategy with everything from recruiting and retention to organizational communications and collaboration – it becomes your operational framework. Once you can understand the impact, importance and ‘why’ of diversity and inclusion, it can begin to shape how the organization should behave to achieve those outcomes.
In short, without knowing what you want to achieve and how you plan to get there, diversity becomes yet another checkbox exercise with no impact, and inclusion remains the buzzword you bring up once a quarter.