Defining your organization’s values is the first step to building a successful culture, but make sure they produce the right deal the result is another story. Values can be positive, but they also need to be credible, genuine, and authentic to your organization.
If your company culture isn’t where you want it to be, start the change by looking at four possible reasons for disconnection.
1. Overambitious values
A recent MIT Sloan Management Review a study of company value statements found a gap between what companies say they value and what their culture shows they value. The disconnect occurs when companies are overambitious about their core values, focusing on the culture they want to instead of the one they already have.
Many founders think they have to go out and invent a whole new set of values when trying to bring about real change in the workplace. Instead, it is much easier to nurture the values and culture that currently exist. If you have a garden already full of desirable plants that have the potential to grow, you’re probably not going to tear them up and start from scratch. You will continue to water and tend to these plants to help them thrive.
At my company, Pattern, we quickly realized that instead of dreaming about what we wanted to be, we needed to define who we are as a company. now and focus on our strengths. Values like these are more meaningful and resonate with employees.
2. Overdose of values
Your core values tell the story of your organization. You want your employees to connect with your ideals and use them as a guide in making decisions. If employees don’t find them easy to understand and straightforward, you probably won’t be able to nurture or reinforce them.
If you asked your employees to name your company’s core values, could they remember them all? If not, it’s time to shorten your list. Unfortunately, many companies focus on quantity, not quality — I’ve seen some with up to 20 core values. At this number, educating everyone is impossible. Airbnb had this issue. When they found that their employees weren’t remembering their six core values, they reduced them to four.
In our company, we also have four values, and everyone knows them. I don’t have to talk about these principles every day because they resonate and mean something to employees. This helps employees connect with the culture from the start.
If you find that your company’s values are easily overlooked, narrow down the list by identifying those that have the most impact in helping your employees do their jobs. Keep those. Cut the rest.
3. Failure to reinforce
Once you have identified who you are as a company and established your values, develop and cultivate them in a targeted way throughout the organization. However, avoid being too heavy.
Recognition programs can help employees connect with, nurture, and reinforce your values. Using social currency, look for small ways to recognize and celebrate employees who embody one of your core values in their work. This helps reinforce the idea that they are doing things the right way.
We have many ways to reinforce our core values in our business, and we always make sure to be authentic in how we do it. For example, an employee may have found a great new way to analyze our dataset. At the next general meeting, we will recognize the employee’s success. Everyone is excited and it gives the person time to shine. It can also inspire other employees to develop new ideas, and it helps us instill our values as a habit in the workplace rather than a rare occurrence.
Another way to cultivate our values is to organize a “values week”. We dedicate a day to each value, which allows everyone to be reminded of what it means. We also give out a prize to celebrate successes: a plaque that the employee displays on their desk during the week.
However, we are careful not to take gamification and financial incentives too far, as we believe they can harm values and who we are as a company. Core values should be embedded in everything we do, and employees should use them because they believe in them, not because they expect to be rewarded.
4. Not checking the ego at the door
Although some may disagree, CEOs don’t create culture, employees do. Unfortunately, some leaders lose sight of this and discuss cultures and values about themselves. This can lead to low morale and productivity because employees no longer feel that the values relate to the company.
I’ve seen cases where the CEO decides to throw a big year-end party and asks the employees to attend. The CEO is giving a speech, and it’s their interests and not those of the company. Employees would probably rather have dinner with family than attend this party where their CEO does everything for them.
If you cross the line and emphasize your accomplishments, you are showing that you are not living up to your company’s core values. You’ll likely create a culture that your employees won’t like, and that’s the fastest way to lose your talent.
Deploy your values for good
A business is not a business without core values. They have the ability to transform an organization and drive its growth. Employees want to work for a company they believe and trust.
If you think your values aren’t working for your organization, it’s time to reassess and reset them. Establish clear, meaningful, and authentic ideals that align with your business goals.