The Value of Values

I was in a meeting last week with a leader of a global technology company who was not a fan of corporate values. We were talking about internal communications, and she said that most often, corporate values are empty words and that she’d rather focus on other things. What’s important to her is teaching her leadership how to communicate more effectively.

I couldn’t agree more on the importance of coaching leaders toward more effective communication. Regardless of how hard you attempt to align employees around the vision of the organization, if you can’t effectively communicate to employees, it will fall flat.

But, at Tribe, we believe that corporate values are extremely important. If the vision defines what the company needs to achieve to be successful, the vision instructs employees on expectations of how they should do it.

For many companies, values are indeed empty words – or at least, words that probably won’t help the company achieve their goals. Often, corporate values are distilled down to generic words that are really just table stakes or descriptive of how employees should act regardless of where they are – respect, integrity, excellence, customer-centricity. They do little to help employees understand how they could or should think differently about working within this company.

Values should reflect the DNA of the organization, but should not necessarily be defined by the organization. Like the organizational vision, leadership should define, communicate and live by company’s set of values. Leadership will have strong opinions about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior within the company. Maybe employees are asked to work hard, but are given flexibility about when and where they get their work done. Maybe there are sales goals, but it’s unacceptable to achieve those goals in a manner that undermines long-term relationships with clients. Leadership must set those expectations.

Values that aren’t true to the organization can be much worse than no values at all. Employees will immediately know if the company doesn’t live by the values that it espouses. So it’s critically important that leadership get outside of the C-suite to understand where the gaps are between the chosen value set versus the reality of the existing culture. It’s not a crime to have aspirational values – in fact values should drive us to strive further. But it’s counter-productive for a company’s values to diverge too much from reality.

Once you have a set of values that define and differentiate your culture, use them everywhere. Values should be a part of your internal communications, recruitment, on-boarding, employee development and bonus structures. Most importantly they should be communicated and demonstrated day in and day out by the leaders of the organization.

Interested in defining and communicating values? Tribe can help.

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