Organizational values anchor a team, a business unit or a company. They can provide a moral foundation for taking the high ground in tough times or when temptation comes knocking. They reflect and reinforce organizational culture.
Many organizational leaders take the time and effort to come up with an explicit set of values that reflect the beliefs and aspirations of their company or business unit. These values are often inspirational; professing integrity, leadership and teamwork. When I ask about organizational values, I find that the executives I work are often enthusiastic and supportive of them.
Although there may be a lot of energy put into selecting the perfect set of values for your organization, don’t get trapped into thinking that once they are communicated that everyone will remember and abide by them. Mistakes will be made, but as an organizational leader, you can increase your chances of having your values front and center by:
Keeping them memorable. Long drawn-out lists containing complex descriptions are a quick path to making employees forget and file them away. Make the list brief (I suggest three to five of the most important values your organization wants to emphasize) and make the descriptions simple so they are memorable. Print them on wallet-size cards, have them in your e-mail signature line and/or have an artist come up with pleasing wall hangings. Some organizations like to have all employees sign the list (showing their commitment).
Modeling them in your thoughts, words and actions. Make sure that you personally keep your organizational values front and center in decisions and actions you take. It’s often easy for values to get neglected over time and for leaders to disregard the fact that others are watching them closely to see if they walk the talk. Once you visibly slip up, your followers may believe that it’s OK for them to disregard organizational values too. Ask for regular feedback on whether others perceive that you are aligning yourself with the organizational values and if you make a mistake, publicly apologize. It’ll remind everyone that you are keeping the values in your thoughts and words and will continue to do your best to keep them in your actions.
Infusing values into your communications and the framework of your organization. When you are speaking with others in your organization, use the values to make your case. Give examples of how you’ve observed employees embodying the values. Instigate meaningful conversations with your team about values. Tell stories about how they are being followed in other areas your company. Connect the dots for employees about how following the values make your workplace and your company better.
Recognizing those who exemplify the values. Look for those who are taking action aligned with your values. Whether you do this publicly or privately, catch employees following your organization’s values and let them know that you noticed. Thank them for doing so.
Noticing when values aren’t being followed. Provide timely feedback to those who’ve strayed and remind them of the specific value(s) they’ve strayed from. Let them know what impact this has on you, others and the organization. If they continue to make errors of judgment around the values, treat it as you would any other performance-management matter.
Keep organizational values alive through your actions. Make sure you are modeling them and expect the same of your employees by infusing them into your communication, recognition and feedback. Watch as they bring energy and commitment to your organization’s culture!
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 11 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages large-scale corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.