Values, Inclusion and Culture

Values are not words confined to a wall in Head Office. They are the beliefs we live out on a day-to-day basis. As Marshall Goldsmith has noted, terms like “integrity” and “customer satisfaction” are generic and may even be aspirational: what we hope to be! True values differentiate us and define our organisational culture. They concern how we do business, and have strong ties to our why (purpose beyond profit), not just the easily commoditised what.

Values, then, should memorably capture what is being seen. Too many hallways are filled with what we think customers want to hear, rather than what defines us. How is “integrity” a differentiator? If you don’t have this, why are people doing business with you? Surely your reputation will precede you? And by integrity, if you did feel it was a differentiator, did you mean integration, honesty, respect, walking the talk or reliability, perhaps?

Values are inspirational when they are reflected in actions like hiring and disciplinary practices, recognition, rewards and the essential “hygiene factors”, to quote Herzberg, that are part and parcel of an engaging place to work. According to Engage for Success, these are:

  • a powerful, compelling narrative about the organisation – past, present and future
  • engaging managers who “focus their people”, provide challenging breadth of experience, treat each person as an individual and coach their team.
  • robust dialogue that encourages contribution and challenging views (employee voice)
  • walking the talk – reduction of the “knowing-doing gap” through applied effort

Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, in Built to Last, studied organisations that had survived for at least 50 years. One of their key discoveries was that such organisations had found a way to “preserve the core AND stimulate progress”. It’s not “OR”. The core is about the why and the chosen how, even possibly where and to whom. It is seldom a unique what. The Lux* Hotel Group refocused their attention on making every moment matter – for staff and customers: “helping people celebrate life”. This inspired actions that reflected values they already held dear, like excellence, caring and professional service. My business partner, Nadine, spoke highly of a B’nB that exceeded expectations. When the proprietor was asked what they do differently, he replied that a family member overnights in a (different) room each month, and notes their experience as a customer might. It’s “back to the floor”, or mystery shopping, at a practical level. Southwest Airlines and Pick ‘n Pay represent organisations built on “fighting for the consumer”, and this core must be maintained, while growth and progress is pursued.

Is your culture inclusive? Or are your people able and willing, but not “allowed”. HBR’s August 2016 issue on Diversity provides some interesting insights, too plentiful for discussion here. Suffice to say that we could be asking what inclusiveness and belonging would look like, if widely practised here. We could be inviting diverse people out for lunch, going beyond our differences to explore what we both value. We would be learning what interests them, and why, out of genuine curiosity. We would be urgently seeking growth – a learning orientation that promotes agility and adaptability. We would not be averse to specialisation, rather than experience (which could limit you to stay beneath me, if I am more experienced). Such thinking belongs in a more stable era, with a slow rate of change and minimal pioneering, not the 21st Century.

Our values should guide induction (establishing trust and autonomy before introducing training), listening, interactive forums that promote the meaningful adoption of ideas and challenging norms. Such values will naturally encourage continuous improvement, rather than a “don’t-mess-with-my- good-thing” approach. Furthermore, actively supporting the assimilation of our deeply-held values will make us an attractive place to work (employer brand), if our values are authentic, differentiated, shared by key stakeholders (i.e. exco and all senior managers) and then “over-communicated”, in the words of Patrick Lencioni.

The generic, in this case, is beneath your potential.