Are you Serious about your Values?

I see values on the walls or glass doors of most organisations. Most are good intentions, rather than current reality.

Values are what you choose to hold unswervingly to, because they are in your organisational DNA. They underpin emotional interactions, defining what delights, angers or causes sadness.  Values are the essence of your brand. If your brand identity isn’t clear, it’s difficult to follow-through on standards, to align your people and to connect your customers to something meaningful, special and worth identifying with (your brand image and reputation). A few leading organisations that I have had the privilege of working with do get it right. They chose, know and regularly communicate their values. All hiring, developmental and outplacement decisions involve values front and centre. It’s no surprise, then, that employees love the consistency of approach and deliver excellence voluntarily, leading to customer satisfaction and profitability.

One organisation that I have worked with for many years is, shall we say, mildly  schizophrenic. At any given moment, one is unsure which identity will surface: the “stated” DNA or the “actual” performance, based on deeply-held conditioning and mindsets. The head of Group Coaching, for example, may arrive at a group training session and shout at the senior leaders for their parking habits, only to return to the office and plan more coaching sessions. In other circumstances, positional power may be used to deny a colleague access to further studies, because the protagonist feels that the organisation is coping well without these skills – or perhaps doesn’t want their colleague to be more qualified than they are. This exists in an organisation proud of its agility, innovation and customer-centricity! I can report that their internal customers do not feel valued, respected, trusted and heard – their voice has been muted, in general, in favour of external customers and – in truth – the management team’s perceptions.

Self-determination Theory (SDT) – one of the most credible researched modern theories on motivation (care of Deci and Ryan), holds that autonomy, relatedness and competence are the three pivotal needs of people. In my paraphrase, a)being trusted and given the freedom to do things oneself and be innovative, b)a sense of belonging and inclusion and c)being respected for one’s contribution and challenged to climb greater heights.  Competence is often neglected, and incompetence tolerated. By incompetence, I do not mean that the person is incompetent per se; rather, that they display a lack of competence in certain areas, yet are allowed to practice there. This goes to “first who, then what”, in the words of Jim Collins in Good to Great. Are our people in the right place, where they can grow, excel and raise the standard of organisational performance? Or are they merely “idling”, doing what is necessary to avoid being fired? This is the lowest common denominator. And it is certainly no competitive advantage. It makes sense to give a high performer with has poor people skills more administrative duties, and allow the  person with high emotional intelligence the manager. Yet this is not what I see happen. Drotter’s leadership pipeline aimed to create multiple paths to growth, some for technical experts and others for interpersonal experts. The practice of persisting with tenure, or common history from previous organisations, is simply unsustainable. Momentum will be lost, and talent will be wasted. Engagement -and its outcomes in terms of increased productivity, greater innovation, improved general health and reduced turnover – will be forfeited.
Excellence is a choice, arising from voluntary contribution. We cannot coerce people into excellence – merely compliance. We need to understand, popularise and live our values, creating a culture of authentic dialogue, if we are to be attractive, engaging organisations that achieve our potential. Anything less is not built to last.