Some readers may be quick to point out a touch of cynicism and I’m not about to deny that may be the case, just as I always say ‘No’ as my starting position when negotiating a scope change to a project. Seriously though, how many times have you seen a list of values so lovingly laminated and proudly displayed in the corridors, inconsistently applied? What of those unwritten and unacknowledged values? Those that support ‘when it suits me’ or ‘subject to my agenda being satisfied’. Why aren’t they included on the list? If values are, and I quote “judgements about what is important” and “along with worldview and personality, they generate behaviour”, then surely along with the positive we should also include the more negative or perhaps controversial ones. After all one persons negative could be another’s positive and not everything can be fabulous all the time.
A recent discussion about a company that changed one of their value statements from openness and integrity to honesty with integrity suggested a need to change behaviours. Basically everyone was being far too open and there was potential for people to know too much. I can see how this can be a bit dangerous for a company, particularly when it comes to moles or leaks who like nothing better than to pass information on to those who shouldn’t have it. The change they made may have meant ‘we’ll be honest about the stuff we do say, we just won’t say everything’. Well, at least that’s honest and tells everyone where things stand.
Values are about creating a culture and environment of desired behaviours and the value comes when they are believed by those on the receiving end. Rosabeth Moss Kanter writes in her blog post “Ten Essentials for Getting Value from Values” for the Harvard Business Review, “it's not the words that make a difference; it's the conversation”. The behaviours experienced consistently every single day without exception must support a company’s defined values, be part of all conversations and generate belief.
If that leads to values being listed along the lines of:
- Keeping everyone in the dark, ie: Fear
- Expecting loyalty while giving none in return, ie: Selfishness
- Following the 'do as I say' model, not the 'do as I do' one, ie: Double-standards
- Always being unavailable particularly when difficult decisions are required, ie: Invisible
- Change the culture
- Be a great place to work
- Develop loyal customers
Don’t run the risk of losing excellent, dedicated, knowledgeable employees. Value the values and whatever makes the list, be honest about them and in action with them at all times!