1) One’s principles or standards; 2) One’s judgment of what is valuable or important in life; 3) The worth, desirability or utility of a thing.
Remember the hallmark of valueless workplaces. We all recognize it – the beautifully crafted wall plaque prominently displayed, but nowhere evidenced in people’s daily work lives…the document word-smithed at exorbitant cost by consultants working with senior leaders in spare-no-expense retreat settings. Puzzled, people see in no way how the values resemble what they experience.
Admit that so-called ‘little’ unsavory actions debase people. It is not necessarily large-scale corruption that eats away people’s spirits. Rather, it is the insidious effect of politicking, playing favourites, manipulating, jockeying for position that harm. Like a “dead fish in the middle of the living room”, everyone sees its decaying ugliness and smells its stench, but no one is gutsy enough to declare the truth.
Handle difficult situations with class. How people are ‘exited’ provides a perfect vehicle for practicing alignment between stated values and actual behaviours. The degree of sensitivity and dignity applied to this emotionally-charged event speaks volumes. When people are hurried unceremoniously out the door and employers fail to calm traumatized employees, we really miss the mark.
Watch for pressure to peel away the veneer. Consider how layoffs, downsizing, plant closings and restructuring are handled. Are frontline workers first to have their employment terminated while executives retain their full compensation? Or, do top brass first cut their pay during tough times? It is appalling how often the negative examples go on, while everyone colludes in turning a blind eye.
Be open to what gets dismissed as ‘soft’ values. At this time, the possibility of spiritual values like harmony, humility and gratitude dominating business would seem far away. Evidence the proliferation of war references at work – jungle, battlefield, enemies. While not all values apply in all settings, there is underlying relevance in being selfless, expressing appreciation and basic respect.
Balance results and values. True accomplishment lies in getting results while remaining values congruent. Many organizations tend to overemphasize results while underestimating the importance of adhering to values. This creates a “results at any cost” culture that ultimately depletes long-term performance and diminishes true accomplishment.
Describe exactly what would constitute living according to values. Well-communicated values definitions with behavioural statements describing exactly how people can demonstrate your values significantly help team members. As does regularly ‘refreshing’ the values with employee task forces who provide ongoing communication about progress – the opposite of leadership visioning done in isolation.
Take responsibility for being a “values steward”. Senior leaders must take visible pride in their organizations’ values, making sure their support is visible and consistent. Such leadership commitment to practice what one preaches keeps hope alive. Trust and respect are essential in accepting leaders’ vision; there must be unquestioned alignment between the talk and walk.
Deal with values discrepancies. As long as reserved parking places and other titular perks separate the “haves” from the “have-nots” we cannot honestly think of workplaces as values-centric. From employees’ vantage point, how would you perceive applying time clocks to some individuals but not others? These are vital questions, given groundswell calls for values alignment.
Wake up to the real “new contract”. Increasingly, people are voting with their feet, leaving valueless ‘dinosaurs for workplaces where their souls’ cries are answered through character-based leadership, impeccable morals and complete values alignment. They will choose where they work according to personal integrity. The reality is there are no longer “more where they came from”.
Questions For Reflection
What do you notice about the degree of alignment between your values and those professed by your organization, and do any actions suggest themselves?
To what degree would you be prepared to compromise your values until you had reached a point beyond which it would be personally intolerable?
How can businesses guard their values in the cold, hard, real world?