Core Values in the Workplace: Stop Laminating, Start Living.

If you have recently looked at the growing tide of news and noise around core values in the workplace you will have already noticed that office posters are being ripped down everywhere. For example, Netflix’s culture manifesto, published on Slideshare and viewed over 11 million times emphasises the central role of values for that company (values are what we value.) Many other organisations describing their cultures at Slideshares #CultureCode page put a similar focus on their values.

Until now most large organisations have had them, but the vast majority have not truly believed in them. They may have been displayed in the reception area or be written on the back of employees’ laminated identity cards, but they have rarely been connected to the behaviors people exhibit, or the objectives and image of the company itself. As Netflix points out, there can be a great difference between what is displayed in the lobby and the behaviors and skills that are actually valued in fellow employees.

However as the workplace shifts deeper into the social age, organisations are starting to move core values in the workplace from the last page, to the front page of their corporate agenda. From laminated, to lived, values are now a central focus for culture change.

This shift can be seen in so many core value re-thinks. The minute values become a living part of the organisation, the generic, motherhood and apple pie platitudes go straight out of the window, as do the prescriptive meanings and straight jacket interpretations. Values are now resonating, they are more comfortable whilst adding in an element of intent and aspiration.

Employees, the very people who were once told to embrace the words chiseled in stone at the company HQ, are now being asked to develop and constantly evaluate the authenticity and relevance of values, because they matter.

Your customers, that is today’s and tomorrow’s customers, are a great example of the value, of values. You may not think your so called internal values are attracting customers and assisting the sales process, but ensuring the world outside your business understand what you, and your people value and promise, is key to gaining both trust and buy-in. Today’s customers are increasingly looking to positive social feedback and reviews, and there is no greater confidence boost than reading about employees and companies who lives up to their values.

So what works, here are 5 of my own company value priorities, and experiences:

1. Using the values to integrate management and HR processes. Values are already being used within many organisations’ HR processes however it is still relatively rare to find places where values are supported visibly through all HR processes. More commonly an organisation’s values might be central to one process, for example recruitment, but the behaviours which are emphasised elsewhere, for example in reward, can be something completely different.

2. Embedding values in development centres. One of the most useful ways of ensuring that values are lived is to have employees give them specific time and focus. Development centres can be a great way to help employees discover what demonstrating values can look like in practice and what they are doing personally to live the values, or not.

3. Gaining senior level sponsorship. One of the most important enablers for ensuring everyone lives the values is having top leaders demonstrating and reinforcing them. Nothing makes it more plain that values are just for show than if leaders either demonstrate misaligned behaviours or dismiss the values through what they say. However hardly anything makes values seem more important than if leaders do demonstrate them and emphasise to their reports how important they believe the values are.

4. Linked to this point, another important requirement is to consider the key moments of truth in an organisation and to ensure these reinforce the values. Moments of truth are the times that the values are going to be tested and at which employees make up their minds whether these are just gloss or have real substance. One example from my own experience concerns a senior manager who was due for a promotion to the executive level. The manager was a good salesman but also a bit of a bully. Everyone in the organisation was watching when it was time for his promotion review and when he was not promoted, and then left, it sent a very clear message to everyone that the values really were very important indeed. (The firm’s executive made it clear that they thought the short-term impact of losing a big revenue generator would be more than offset by having a high performing, values based organisation.)

5. Probably the easiest and most useful way available to all organisations to both develop and measure the demonstration of their values, is social recognition. Making the act of recognition a social activity makes values real for people in a way which many organisations find hard to achieve otherwise. Social recognition makes giving and receiving recognition, linked to the values, a daily activity. Employees can also see every positive contribution across the business and dissect the meaning of what is written, and why it mattered. Social recognition achieves a deeper understanding of each core value, with the many positive contexts and perceptions helping employees build confidence and trust in their colleagues, and their employer. Most importantly, social recognition provides the transparency and honesty needed for core values to become part of a culture employees can believe in.

This leads back to one of the points from the beginning of this post – the necessity and difficulty in developing meaningful values in the first place. Social recognition gives organisations a valuable insight into what employees value themselves, where their heart and minds are, and how easy they are finding it to believe in, and adopt core values. This allows organisations to know how and where to adapt, ensuring values are meaningful enough to be shared, and shared values are surely at the heart of every thriving modern company culture.

Want to move your values from laminated to lived? Make the act of recognition your next social activity. Discover more here.