Do Core Values really matter in creating culture?
The core values question is a critical question for all organisations to ask themselves before they hire their next employee or design their strategy. Similar to the idea in the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland “if you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” When you don’t have a clear vision, strategy and set of values it doesn’t matter who you hire or what you do.
We hear about values, mission statements and culture often, but why are they so important? Essentially core values support the vision, shape your organisation’s culture and reflect what you stand for. They are the essence of your identity as an organisation – your principles, beliefs or philosophies and how you do business. Our work environment should strive to encourage positive values and discourage negative influences that affect behaviour. We all possess a values based moral compass that guides how we treat others, and conduct ourselves. As an organisation this can be a powerful tool to shape culture.
Establishing and embedding strong values into the day to day behaviours of your organisation (your culture) provides specific advantages:
- Values help make more effective decisions. They can be a measure against which to test decisions. e.g. If quality is one of your core values, any products falling short of your standards should not be sold and the issues behind the problem should be identified and solved.
- Values help clarify the identity of the organisation. In a global competitive market cluttered by hype, having a set of specific core values, that you live daily and that speak to the public, is definitely a competitive advantage. Values lived with integrity help connect your organisation with customers and potential employees.
- Values set the tone for recruiting and retention. Job seekers are doing more homework on the organisations they want to work for. They are now more likely to weigh up the values and vision of an organisation against their own personal values. When they buy-into the organisation they are more likely to be engaged and stay.
Beware: When employees sense that a leader’s decisions and actions are in conflict with the stated organisational values, they often conclude that the leader is a hypocrite and disengage. Team members are unlikely to volunteer these thoughts and tell leaders when they think the company’s values have been violated, unless a culture of trust has been established. For this reason, leaders need to work diligently to invite discussion and build trust in their teams. Regular discussions are required to discover what employees are thinking and feeling, and leaders need to be open about their own feelings (leading the way) so that employees will feel more comfortable expressing their concerns. The culture is created daily in each interaction between members of the organisation. If we do not open communication and check our culture pulse regularly culture becomes the accepted behaviour rather than the desired behaviour.
Is your culture being crafted or is it unchecked default behaviour?
Create a culture narrative
The elements of a great corporate narrative can be formal (like Coca-Cola’s World of Coke museum in Atlanta), or informal (like the stories of Steve Jobs’ fascination with calligraphy that shaped the culture at Apple – as shared in his Stanford address). But a culture narrative is ultimately most powerful when it is identified, shaped, and repeatedly shared as a part of the organisation’s ongoing culture discussions. Nordstrom’s culture stories craft the way people work in their business and craft a culture of excellence. Share the stories of “how we do things here” and how these stories align with your stated values. These stories can be used to reward and acknowledge desired behaviour and help employees make new decisions in alignment with the vision and strategy of the organisation.
These 5 common components of great cultures are keys to building a sustainable organisation:
1. Shared vision: A great culture begins with a clear, relatable vision or mission statement that is shared throughout the organisation. These simple turns of phrase can powerfully guide an organisation’s values and provide it with a clear purpose. That purpose is able to orient every decision employees make. When a good vision statement is authentic and prominently displayed it can even help engage customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders. Some organisations have excelled at the simple, compelling vision statement. e.g. Oxfam’s “A just world without poverty.” and Airbnb’s “Help creating a world where you can belong anywhere.“ A vision statement is a simple but foundational element of your organisation’s culture.
2. Values lived: The values an organisation actually lives are at the core of its culture. Values offer a set of guidelines on the behaviours and mindsets needed to achieve that vision. One of the Google’s most well known values is “Don’t be evil.” Zappos has “being weird” as one of it’s values to encourage individual thinking vs group think. Most organisational values revolve around a few simple topics (employees, clients, quality, etc.), but authenticity is far more important than originality.
3. Daily practices: Values are of little benefit unless they are embedded in an organisation’s practices. If an organisation says that “people are our greatest asset,” but has processes and procedures that put hours worked or profit above people, they are essentially creating a negative cynical culture that works against their stated vision and strategy. If people are indeed your greatest asset, it is essential to show that by investing in them in visible ways, and insuring that processes and procedures and rewards are aligned with this value. What we measure and reward gets repeated.
4. People fit: Building an aligned culture without people who either share your core values, or possess the willingness and ability to embrace those values, is impossible. That is why the trend is to hire for culture fit. This does not mean hiring the same types of people as diversity is a strength. It means hiring people with similar attitudes and values, but with different experiences (background, gender, race, work experiences).
5. Supportive environment: Why do google, Pixar and other innovation giants spend so much money on creating their environments? The bottom line is that that environments shape culture. Nike has a running track as it aligns with their fitness culture. Google has pool tables and slides in the office to shift conversations from an “office” to a more natural environment. E.g. open workspaces can be more conducive to certain types of office behaviours, like collaboration. Some cities and countries have local cultures that can reinforce (or conflict with) the culture the organisation is trying to create. Environment – whether geography, architecture, or aesthetics – impacts the values and behaviours of people in a workplace.
There are numerous other factors that influence culture but but these 5 elements can provide a great outline for crafting your organisation’s culture. Ultimately the biggest determination of culture is action – what we do each day – regardless of the posters and speeches. Culture is created daily through action taken and core values are a powerful tool to guide these actions.
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