Company Values: Creating Internal Alignment
By Igshaan Soules
Alignment with the company’s values is the foundation for sustainable success in any organisation without which, the company’s structures, systems, processes and practices become ineffective.
The world of business is changing at a pace unprecedented in history propelled by an explosion of information and accelerated changes in technology. Global competition is becoming more intense, new business models are emerging or existing once continuously evolving, product life cycles are compressed and more diverse, multi-cultural workforce are becoming the norm. This coupled with higher expectations for quality, value and service is creating unprecedented demands on organisations to continuously change.
This requirement to continuously change necessitates a resilient organisation where employees are deeply aligned with organisational purpose, vision and values.
I constantly poll company leaders to determine whether they know their company’s values. I always seem to get the same result – a small percentage is able to recite the company’s vision and/or list the company’s values without hesitate or prompting. These results are common across private and public sector entities. On average only 25% of participants are able to recite the organisation’s vision, whilst only about 40% were able to recite the organisation’s values.
Why, you may ask, are these results so significant? We have found that many companies have expended significant time and effort trying to define the organisation’s purpose, vision and values. Yet little time was spent aligning employees with what has been created or are already in place. Whilst it is easier to align employees with purpose and vision, creating alignment around core values is more difficult.
Jim Collin’s articulated this position well when he states that, “Core values are not something people “buy-in” to. People must be predisposed to holding them.” Without this values foundation in the company, aligning employees with organisational purpose and vision is at best difficult. Thus, it would appear that our starting point must be to ensure that the values of our employees are aligned with the core values held sacred by the organisation.
In an organisational climate survey conducted for a client, the results for one of the constructs highlighted significant concerns regarding the (un)ethical conduct of employees in the organisation. In subsequent interviews numerous examples were sighted of confidential information being disclosed to outside parties and employees “directing” customers to competitors. These acts were inconsistent with the organisation’s values, yet continued.
To ensure alignment with your organisation’s core values, you need to ensure that the observable behaviours of employees are consistent with those expected of the organisation’s core values. For example, if the organisation values honesty and integrity, what behaviours can outsiders expect to see that demonstrates that value? In the example quoted above, outsiders would almost with certainty conclude, that “honesty and integrity” is not core to the values of this organisation. The impact of this conclusion could be devastating to the business achieving it purpose and vision.
Like most companies, the company mentioned above has the systems and processes necessary to drive human behaviour yet, like most, does not use it effectively. Recruitment and selection, performance management, remuneration and reward and disciplinary systems are core systems, process and practices for most organisations. Still, the recruitment and selection processes are seldom used to “keep out” potential candidate whose values may not necessarily be aligned to that of the company. Similarly, insufficient skills to manage the performance of employees often result in critical negative behaviours of employees being overlooked. Under or poor performance is often “rewarded” by automatic “cost of living” increases. In these instances, our efforts to align employees with the organisation’s purpose and vision become totally ineffective because the very values fundamental to the achievement of this purpose and vision is being undermined by the manner in which the behaviours of employees are directed.
Values become the defining criteria, the standard against which difficult decisions are made. How often have employees in your company pointed to decisions that were incongruent with your organisation’s values? It is for this reason important that organisations imbed its values and the associated behaviour standards in its key human management systems.
A substantial body of research points to high-performing organizations consistently having core values that differ from mediocre organisations.
Bottom Line: Understanding the company’s values fundamental to the successful achievement of organisational purpose and vision is important, directing the behaviours of employees in a manner that will inculcate the right values, critical.