I am sure you have gone into an organization and seen posters of Organizational Values? I am also sure you have at least once, wondered what they mean and what people do with them! In this short piece, I will try and share some thoughts around the topic of values, their significance and how to make them work.
So what makes an organization tick in the long run?
Is it the product, the brand, technology, teamwork, profits or the senior management? While all of these are important, they are affected by external market forces which impact the way they interact to generate value and thereby profits. Products, technology, brand, senior management, all are vulnerable to market forces which can change very quickly. Success attracts attention and brings in competitors who erode the USP of an organization by copying, buying or head hunting whatever drives the competitive advantage! In such a scenario, how can one sustain and make the organization tick in the long run?
Anything that has a strong DNA exists in the long run. And the DNA of any organization is its Values. A clear set of values, linked to the real purpose of the organization and lived through everyday behaviours drives an organization. Look at any organization that is a few generations old and you will see a clear sense of purpose. That purpose is lived through the small actions that people take on a day to day basis. Any organization that can help its employees to take consistent decisions while facing everyday dilemmas can survive in the long run.
How do we create this 'Values' framework? What should it look like? What can make it more relevant?
Some key questions we can address while creating a values framework are: Why do we exist? Who do we service? What value do we provide to our customers? How do we make money? What’s negotiable and non-negotiable when we are making money? What would we not do at any cost? To what extent would we go to do what we want to do and believe in? These are some questions that will capture the external (market and customer) perspective; but there could be similar questions that can capture the internal perspective i.e. employees, suppliers, other stakeholders. What kind of a culture would you like to build? What will be the norms of working together? What will be some of the do’s and don’ts? How can we deal with non-compliance?
An ideal approach for creating a values framework would be to go top down and then come bottom up. Both perspectives are important as people make an organization; and are also bundles of emotions. When we include people in writing their own story, we engage them emotionally. They start writing their own story and in the process start owning a piece of the organization, which drives a higher commitment. The sense of right and wrong, which is the values, changes when you start treating the organization as your own.
Such frameworks should ideally be created through a collaborative approach and discussed with people at all levels. Senior leaders and people managers should be trained for the responsibility of taking it down to the grassroot level. Employees should be encouraged to ask their leaders what these Values mean; what do they do when faced with dilemmas and how do they use the Values Framework?
The creation of a Value framework is often treated as an event or as a flavour of the season! Reasons are that there are no follow ups and systemic linkages to other HR/Organizational processes like performance management, mobility and promotions, talent identification and a very clear rewards and consequence management system. The most damage is done when employees see their senior leaders not “walking the talk” and baulking when faced with tough decisions. The buck eventually stops at the top and it's a question that senior leaders need to ask themselves i.e. what is the kind of an organization they want to build? Do they want to build an organization that is transient or one that will thrive in the long run?