A few weeks ago in the blog post “What Does Your Organization Value?” I wrote about what organizational values are and why they are important. I explained that the leaders of an organization must not just communicate organizational values but they must also model the values that they are communicating.
If they model something other than what they are communicating, their staff will pick up on it immediately. Employees emulate the values that their leaders are modeling, not necessarily what they are stating. Hence the Ralph Waldo Emerson statement “Your actions speak so loudly I cannot hear what you say.”
In the article, I suggested that leaders conduct a poll of their employees to find out what the employees perceive as the organizational values. I believe that this is an extremely important exercise that an organizations’ leaders should do every few years.
So, how should you go about this in your organization?
I have seen this done very informally and very formally. The informal approach would be to have the leaders go out and talk directly with staff and ask them; “What values do you see us, as your leaders, modeling?” Make sure the staff understand that there are no wrong answers. You are looking for their perception of what is being predominately modeled by the leaders in the organization. This informal approach should include at least a ten percent sample of the employee base to allow for an accurate data sample.
A formal approach could consist of requiring all employees to submit a written form listing the top three values they see their leaders modeling. This is more of an impersonal approach so a concise written description needs to be provided with the values survey to ensure that the employees understand that you are looking for modeled values and not necessarily the values listed on the company website.
Result Consolidation and Categorization
Once the results have been collected, the leaders need to consolidate and categorize them. This usually requires a little interpretation as there are many ways to say the same thing. For example, “financial results”, “profit driven”, “profit focused” and “financial gain” probably mean the same thing and are not really unique values. They could be consolidated into one value with a title like “Financially Focused”
After the list has been consolidated, the frequency of each unique value needs to be recorded and a list of the top three to five values based on the frequency of occurrence can be identified.
If this list of top three to five values match what the leaders have communicated as organizational values then you can skip the rest of this blog and just keep your leaders doing what they are already doing. It is obviously working.
If the survey data does not match what the leaders have communicated as organizational values, then this is where the hard work starts!
Mismatches are caused by a disconnect between what your leaders are stating and what the employees are seeing the leaders model in their everyday interactions. This disconnect can be caused by many different things. For example;
- The leaders are simply not “practicing what they are preaching”
- The business has gone through a major cultural change recently and there has not been sufficient time to instill the new organizational values
- The business is a recent startup and has not yet had time to gel
- The leaders are too far removed from the day to day business and are not closely engaged with the staff
- The business has many virtual or remote staff that do not get the “face time” required to instill the culture and values
- The business has a communication breakdown at one or more places in its organization structure.
What can be done to solve the mismatch issue? The specific answer depends on the root cause of the disconnect and the leaders must determine this for themselves. However, some simple steps that can be taken that will be beneficial for all organizations regardless of the root cause are as follows;
- If values are really important to the organization, get all of the leaders on board with the values with no exceptions.
- Work with the leaders to ensure that they are modeling the values in every interaction and communication. Provide behavior coaching for the leaders where they may have blind spots.
- Use tools like monthly newsletters and “Did You Know” emails to highlight projects, customer interactions and other stories that clearly illustrate the company values in play.
- Get specific feedback from employees regarding the mismatches and use this to make adjustments.
- Look for communication gaps in the organization structure. Are middle managers getting and understanding the message being communicated by leadership? If not, what can be done to fix these gaps?
So how did your organization do? Are your employees in line with the organization’s values? If not, what action are you going to take to communicate clearly and get the alignment?
“Change is most frightening to people when they lack a firm foundation on which to stand. If they have a strong base of unchanging bedrock values, they are better equipped to weather any storm. That’s why the best leadership in times of change is clearly values-based leadership.” Tom Morris
“The only way you can increase speed and stay on course, is everyone knowing and living the company’s values.” John C. Maxwell