Influencing the attitudes and behaviours prevalent across a business is the primary purpose of having corporate values, yet these values often have no real impact on how people behave at work, writes Karen Gately.
Many organisations spend considerable time and effort defining their core values and yet fail to achieve the desired result. More often than not the disconnect between what is espoused and what happens in practice is caused by a lack of real ownership from the top.
The success of any effort to influence culture is unquestionably and intimately related to the degree of engagement and accountability of senior leaders. Beginning with the board and CEO, unless every leader takes responsibility for driving the creation of the desired culture, success will be hit and miss at best.
‘Walking the talk’ means doing what you say you will – in other words, turning words into action. Priorities set, decisions made and actions taken by leaders at every level of an organisation’s hierarchy demonstrate what is truly valued. Unless the behaviours that people see demonstrated or encouraged are aligned with those that leaders say are important, corporate values will have little to no positive impact. As the age old saying goes 'actions speak louder than words'.
For values to have any meaningful impact on the culture of a business, they need to truly matter. It’s easy to talk about the values people need to demonstrate; however any real impact on organisational culture is driven by the extent to which there is alignment between words and actions.
The seven-step walk
Seven essential ways to walk the corporate values talk include:
1. Drive from the very top
‘Leaders of leaders’ have ultimate influence and responsibility for the culture that is created. Allowing unacceptable senior management behaviour to go unaddressed is a key driver behind many failed efforts to create a healthy workplace culture. Starting with the board and CEO, every senior leader must be held accountable for behaving – or not behaving – in line with the organisations values.
2. Support people managers
Ensure every leader of people has a well-developed understanding of your corporate values and what each one looks like in action. Support their efforts to set clear expectations, appraise behaviour and provide constructive feedback. Expect and support them to have those tough conversations about behaviour that so many managers avoid.
3. Take action
Little to nothing is gained from articulating core values unless people are held accountable for behaving in accordance with them. Talking about values without applying them frustrates a lot of people and will cause many to disengage. Unfulfilled values, perceived as broken promises, are a constant reminder that the organisation promised to be better than it is today. Have necessary conversations, make decisions and take action to ensure people behave as expected.
4. Be consistent
Every member of a team must be expected to behave in line with the organisation’s values irrespective of who they are and the role they play. Making exceptions is one sure way to undermine engagement with your values. Even the highest revenue earner needs to be held accountable for their conduct – or confidence in your sincere commitment to your values will be eroded.
Consistency relates to how you treat one person over the next, but also how you respond to the behaviour of an individual or group over time. A lack of consistency in either your reaction or follow-through sends confusing messages about what you really expect. Don’t threaten to take remedial action unless you are in fact willing to do so.
5. Reward well
Observe and recognise people on your team who consistently demonstrate your values. Reward only those people who bring behaviours you want to reinforce and encourage in others. Look for opportunities to leverage any formalised rewards programs to emphasise expectations and showcase positive behaviours. Encourage members of your team to nominate for recognition peers who they believe live by your corporate values.
6. Hire well
Recruit people who are likely to behave appropriately. Explore how candidates have approached tasks or circumstances in the past in order to derive a sense of how they are likely to behave in the future. Reflect on the values and attitudes they are likely to bring, and how these will influence their approach to working with other people.
7. Promote well
Never appoint someone to a leadership role unless they operate in ways consistent with the culture you want to create or maintain. This applies as much to the decisions that are made about who to appoint to Board roles as it does to any other leadership position. The decisions made about who is appointed will send clear messages about what is ultimately considered successful behaviour. The approach a new leader takes before and following their appointment points to the values and behaviours that really matter.