Why Values Matter … And How to Get the Most Out of Them

Quick. Tell me your company’s values. No peeking at the poster on wall. Can you recite them? You can? Good for you! Now, can you tell me what those values mean – what they look like – in your everyday work? In the work of your boss? In the work of the people who report to you?

There is great value in company values – but only if they become so “real” for employees, they know what it means in their daily work. A couple of months ago, Rosabeth Moss Kantor wrote in the Harvard Business Review the “Ten Essentials for Getting Value from Values.” The entire list is a must read, but today let’s focus on just two.

“Actions reflecting values and principles – especially difficult choices – become the basis for iconic stories that are easy to remember and retell, reinforcing to employees and the world what he company stands for.”

Yes, I agree. But Rosabeth doesn’t go far enough. HOW do you do this? What’s the process for getting these iconic stories shared and discussed in your organization? With strategic employee recognition, it’s easy. You encourage all employees, at every level, to notice and appreciate the efforts of their colleagues that reflect and demonstrate the values. You require a detailed message to highlight these points. You share the messages of recognition broadly throughout the company so others can learn “what the values look like in the work” as well.

Does this really matter, you ask? According to recent research published by the Boston Consulting Group and the World Federation of People Management Associations, the executives surveyed highlighted six areas as especially weak at their companies – “Clear consequences for individuals not living the company values” is one of them.

This is why your STATED values – those you’ve put on the plaque on the wall – must become stronger than your TOLERATED values (as I’ve written about in detail before). Or, as Dr. Kantor put it:

“As they become internalized by employees, values and principles can substitute for more impersonal or coercive rules. They can serve as a control system against violations, excesses or veering off course.”

How can you expect consequences for employees not living the values if they don’t understand how to “live the values” in their work in the first place? By creating an understanding of company values in their own, personal work through recognition and appreciation, you give your employees a positive context for understanding and repeating those values on an ongoing basis.

What could be more powerful?

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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