Embedding Values in your Organisation

All organisations need to deliver on their promise to their clients, customers, or other stakeholders. To do so they need to deliver on their promise to their people.

Values, and their associated behaviours, are part of that promise. Values are the clarification of ‘how we do things around here’. They explain the expectations around how people should act – how to treat stakeholders and each other, how to make decisions and how to be effective in the organisation.

Putting values on the wall is the easy part. How to make them real is the hard part.

The values don’t just belong to the managers

They don’t belong to just the management team. Values don’t belong to the HR team. Values need to belong to everyone in the organisation. Ideally, everyone across the organisation is given an opportunity to be part of the creation of the values. Everyone in the organisation needs the opportunity to share the ownership of values. Leaders across the organisation need to include their people in any discussion of the values to ensure their understanding and to gain their buy-in.

Just because people know doesn’t mean they will

To make values useful to your organisation, everyone needs to understand them and want to behave in accordance with them. This is about capturing hearts as well as minds. Everyone needs to know them and know how to demonstrate them, and see the benefit in doing so.

‘Do as I say and do as I do’

Maybe your parents said something different like, “Do as I said, not as I do”. However that is the antithesis of the message that comes from a values-driven culture. Everyone has to understand them and live them. Role-modelling values-based behaviours must occur at every level of the organisation.

If the Chief Executive tells others that they need to live them, and the he/she does not live them, they become meaningless. If the managers tell others they need to live them, and the managers don’t live them, they become meaningless. When colleagues point at other people and tell them to live them, but don’t live them themselves, they become meaningless.

Just because you expect it, doesn’t mean people know how

To create a shared culture, everyone needs to be explicitly clear about what the values look like, feel like, and sound like. Part of the embedding of values involves creating actions through clear associated behaviours, and then supporting them.

For example - if one of your values is built around the concept of respect, then the organisation needs to equip people with the skills to speak and behave in a respectful way. People need to know how to communicate in a respectful way. People need to experience communication in a respectful way from those above and around them.

Let me be part of the ‘how’ - don’t just tell me what to do

Words that are just put up on a wall just become wallpaper. They don’t really mean anything; they don’t do anything. And they won’t make a difference to your organisation. To make values useful and meaningful, let everyone be part of the identification of the supporting behaviours. Part of the process of embedding values includes clarifying the behaviours - how do we live the values? What does it look like for me here in this organisation?

Values need to be embedded in the organisation. They need to become part of the fabric of the organisation from the beginning to the end of the employment relationship; you select people to join the organisation who demonstrate them, who show they are aligned to the values. You induct people so they can live the values. Your expectations are connected to them. You hold people to account not just for what they do, but how they do it. You support and explicitly link development to the values. Your decision-making (especially when things get tricky) are guided by your values. Your recognition and appreciation is based, not just on the outputs, but the way people demonstrate the values. And that also means people need to be safely challenged when their actions are not aligned to the values.

Every time you employ people who do not act in a way that is aligned to your values; every time you don’t challenge misalignment; every time you recognise or reward people who do not act in a way that is aligned to your values, you are undermining the culture you want to create, and you are not keeping your promise.

When you keep your promise to your people, you are more likely to get the productivity you require, the service you want, the innovation and improvements you need. You gain effort, flexibility, loyalty and the qualities you want from your people.

It takes mahi to go on this shared journey. And it is worth it.

Authored by Carolyn Bates, one of our organisational values specialists.

If you would like some help with embedding values in your workplace, contact Kyran or Nicky on info@odi.org.nz or 03 943 2373.