Values by Accident
Organisations talk about their values, they frame them and put them on their walls, but do they really pay much attention to them?
Frequent readers of the blog know that I have a passion about organisational culture, it's the one single true advantage your organisation has over any other so having a true set of values that you can build your culture on is critical.The thing people forget about company values is that like anything, unless you maintain them, they go into a state of atrophy, the decay, they breakdown and fall apart. Before you know it, you have values that you just didn't intend to have popping up all over your organisation.
Not as Intended
If you stand back and look at your organisation and really think about what are the values that are there, how many of them are intended, how many of them line up with that list you put on the wall? Now to be fair, not every value that ends up on a list of company values should be there, some are just marketing BS that have no place in the conversation about culture but lets just put that to the side.
Let's say you have 3 really good ones; those are the ones you care about. For example, one may be something like, "Simplicity above all else". The leadership team had agreed that keeping things simple meant you would have speed or execution and you could change and adapt easily, you could be agile with simple and to make something simple you really need to understand it.
However, when you look around at what you do and how you do it, it's become so complex and there are so many rules, procedures, barriers that not only can you not get things done but you have no idea how it happened. The bureaucratic and political nightmare that is your organisation just somehow happened. That's now your culture, it's a culture of hoop jumping and back covering, that's not what you intended, it's not what's on your values list but it is reality.
Values that you don't want are just a nightmare and they are largely accidental. They became ingrained in your organisation because you didn't reinforce the ones you wanted, you allowed them to become the way that things get done and didn't push back on them.
Another example of these accentual values is when you end up building a team of people who all think the same, all look or dress the same, you have codified group think into your values by accident. So how do you avoid this issue?
The solution isn't actually that hard in fact its pretty simple. Understand what your real values are and talk about your real values, those 2 or 3 maybe 4 things that are they most important value in your organisation. Make that value descriptive so that it means something to your organisation, ignore everyone else, it's not for investors or competitors or customers it's for you guys so make it mean something to you. Once you have that talk about them all the time!
Drop the values into everyday conversation, when you are giving someone a pat on the back for doing something link that to a value. When you make decisions within your organisation use the values as your lens. Want to hire someone, use your values, want to exit someone, use your values. Make them the single most important component of your organisation so that there is zero confusion about what your organisation values.
Dealing with Values You Don't Want
Once you have values you don't want occurring in your organisation what do you do about it? Well you talk about it. You highlight that you have seen these things pop up and become ingrained and admit that you made a mistake, you took your eye off the ball and it snuck in but it's not what you are about.
When you see examples of this unwanted value being played out you need to call it out right there and then, so people know that its not who you are and it's not going to keep going like that. Explain why it's not one of your values and how your values are more inline and challenge people to work inline with those values and deliver processes, systems and results based on the values you do want and not the ones you don't want.
Having a set of values that guide your organisation is so important and they only become part of your organisations culture and fabric by keeping them alive by talking about them and demonstrating how they help. Failing to talk about them and use them results in a gap, a chasm that needs to be filled and so it will be filled by a range of values that you don't want and isn't you. If you don't call them out and don't talk about what you do want then you will get what you get, and that may not help you.
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