Have you taken the time to consider your organizational values? Not just in passing, but a deliberate assessment to see how your values may impact your team’s leadership style, your company’s performance, your decision-making process, and even your personal interactions. Aligning organizational values with your people and your strategy can have significant results for your organization.
It may sound odd to consider aligning organizational values to employee values, but a recent article by Paul Ingram and Yoonjin Choi in Harvard Business Review found a number of benefits in doing so, including improved communication, job satisfaction, and teamwork, reduced turnover, and more diversity, equity, and inclusion.
It shouldn’t be a big surprise that employee consideration could have such a substantial impact on the organization. The constant pace of technology adoption has changed the culture of organizations. Then the pandemic and subsequent great resignation brought to light the importance of listening to and engaging with employees.
The idea of aligning corporate values with employees’ values will continue as people are placing a higher value on finding jobs that provide meaning and align with their own values. According to Citigroup’s Global Head of Talent, Erika Irish, “There are a lot of companies out there, and if you don’t have values alignment at one, you can find it at another.”
Aligning organizational values with employees is a nuanced endeavor. Unlike beliefs, which can be generalized to a group of people, values are principles of evaluation and can’t be generalized so easily. It’s also important to note that communicating corporate values over and over does not mean employees will start believing them. As the article calls them, values-as-magic, often alienate employees. They had no part in creating them, and they may or may not align with the person’s own values.
Another watch-out is the idea of culture fit, or, values-as-a-smokescreen, which can bias hiring decisions. Sometimes called a cop-out, hiding behind the veil of cultural fit is often considered lazy. Culture is critical to the success of companies, but hiring for culture fit is problematic. Meta no longer allows the use of the word in hiring. Google also shies away from it in recruiting, though they do seek candidates with ‘Googliness’, which may be their way to avoid the term but still employ the practice.
The authors of the article outline a sequential five-step process for aligning organizational values.
Identify the individual values of all organization members
This step should be done with every employee, or as many as possible, so they understand their own values. Have them list out their top values. Once this is done, they should map out the interdependencies between these values. Doing so will create a so-called values structure. According to the authors, the exercise “can provide you with a rich and accurate understanding of what matters to your employees and will also help them understand themselves better.”
According to the authors, it takes roughly 90 minutes per person. They also identify an alternative that requires less time. Is it a single question, “Whom do you most value among your colleagues in the organization, and why?” The key to this question is the last two words. By describing why the employee must describe their own view of the organization’s values.
Identify key priorities from the strategy
This step is for the executive team to determine what is the most important thing the organization can do to achieve its strategy. This is important as the organizational values also need to align with the business strategy and mission. The article points out that this step must follow the first step if it is to be effective. If not, “those who adhere to the values-as-magic position emphasize this step to the exclusion of Step 1, choosing values that would serve their view of the strategy without bothering to ask what employees themselves value.”
Look for values that both serve the strategy and resonate with individuals
This step requires creative thinking to find values that align candidates with both the business and employees. According to the authors, a task force composed of different levels of employees is often the best approach. You’ll need to share the information gathered in steps one and two in order to provide a foundation.
The intent is to come up with multiple candidates. While they don’t have to be exact matches, they should align with the organization’s strategy and be identifiable to employees. Work to come up with as many valued candidates as possible and narrow them down to the most relevant.
Assess the values of candidates
This step is an opportunity to allow everyone to have a voice in the process. The authors suggest being as inclusive as possible as it provides two significant benefits. “First, it reveals which value statements resonate with the people who make up the organization. Second, inclusion creates commitment. As with any organizational decision, employees and others are more likely to support something if their input has been honestly considered beforehand.”
Any resistance to sharing with everyone should be met with the explanation that to be successful, you need to know how everyone feels about the values. Not knowing makes the process more difficult and less likely to succeed. As the article mentions, “at this stage leaders should make clear that they’re offering everybody “a voice, not a vote.” They will carefully consider all feedback in determining the organization’s values, but they cannot promise that any value, no matter how popular, will become official.”
Edit the top-ranking candidates to generate a final set of organizational values
At this final step, it’s important to reduce the group to the final decision makers, otherwise, it will be difficult to align on the final list. As the article notes, substantive judgments may be required, and you’ll need a small group of strategic thinkers.
Aligning your values takes time, requires focus, and will be an ongoing process. When values are aligned with your strategy and your employees it builds a culture of trust and can reduce employee turnover, increase engagement, and improve performance.
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