How much do you value your values?
I’ve spent time in a lot of offices throughout my career. I’ve seen a lot of posters in a lot of foyers proclaiming company values. I’ve listened to a lot of managing directors talk about company culture and how it plays out in the workplace. Call me cynic, but I’ve often had my doubts.
If values are truly ingrained in company’s culture who needs posters and constant reminders tacked up on the walls? Values should be part of everyday behavior, evidenced in 'the way things are done' and 'how things work'.
I’ll always remember one particular managing director who was very proud of his company values and how deeply ingrained they were in the business. ‘In that case, you won’t mind if we walk down to reception where there are no posters and ask the receptionist what they are?’, I jokingly remarked.
He wasn’t comfortable with that idea. Shame, as he’d spent a lot of time and money investing in company values and the behaviours he hoped they’d inspire. My point was that it was worth finding out how well they’d taken hold.
A year later I happened to meet the same managing director at a networking event and he reminded me of our conversation. In hindsight, he saw how right I was: despite management’s hopes, the values were far from ingrained within the business.
There are many simple ways to evidence people’s perceptions of values and how well they believe they're being lived in the workplace. People can look to themselves and colleagues – including you – to see these values in action.
For a sustainable values-based culture to work, values must be valued. There must be mechanisms in place to draw attention to any positive behaviour, by yourself or others, which reflects these values. On the same note, it’s important to flag up negative behavior that counters company values.
It’s also important to think about how a company defines its values, and how they’re put into practice. I once attended a leadership seminar where the topic of values came up. As a group of 60, we were asked to come up with a mutual value, and rate its importance out of 10. Honesty came up and was given an importance of nine out of 10. So far, so good, until the facilitator set us an exercise…
As a room of strangers, we were divided into groups of eight and asked to write down the name of the person on our table who we least trusted based on initial perceptions. The facilitator then chose one person from each table to stand up and reveal who they’d written down and why: ‘no problem, since you’ve all decided how important it is to be honest, right?’ he joked.
I was chosen and had to do it. Ouch! A very uncomfortable experience. But a great lesson in how important it is to talk and think about values sensitively and really understand what they mean in practice.
How do you value values in your workplace?