Organizational Values

February 23, 2016
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Why talk about values? Well, if you want to truly understand your organization’s culture, you must first start with your values. Values determine the definition of good and bad. Values are at the heart of culture. They form the culture. They are the lifeline of an organization.

Values state what is important to you as an individual and to your organization. In other words, values are what you stand for. They reflect who you are, which in turn affects what you do and how you do it, which is your culture. When you think about values, take a moment to reflect on your behavior and the types of decisions you have made. Do you always act in accordance with the basic beliefs that you hold? Has there ever been a situation in which you had to compromise your values in order to do what you were asked to do by someone else? How did this make you feel?

For most of us, when our behavior is in conflict with our values, we experience stress, frustration, and, sometimes, pain. This ultimately affects what we do, and it affects our organizations.

Like anyone looking to get from point A to point B, businesses need road maps and proper directions. If they don’t have clear direction, the best attitude in the world isn’t going to rectify the situation. In most businesses, there are two types of maps: maps of the way things really are, our reality, and maps of the way things should be, our values. We interpret everything we experience through these mental maps. When there is a disconnect or an incongruence, we struggle to reconcile the difference. This is a major challenge for you as a leader. There should be a clear set of directions for reaching your organizational goals and destination. When there is a need for any of your values to change, then let your people know. Otherwise, they will definitely be headed down the wrong street. Our values map must be our reality map.

Why should we be concerned about these incongruencies? Culture can actually become a liability when the core organizational values are not embraced and practiced by everyone in the organization. This breakdown can interfere with your organization’s ability to reach its strategic goals, and this can cost you money.

What does this have to do with employment branding? Everything. If organizations know what they are and what they are not, they will be able to attract and retain the right employees and repel the ones that just don’t fit. That’s how organizational culture and employment branding increase the ROI of recruitment and retention programs (not to mention the profitability of the business). Culture is the driver of behavior in every organization. One of the ways an organizational culture is established or grown is based on the foundation of the organization’s values. These values allow us to understand what is acceptable and unacceptable to our co-workers, our customers, and our community. So when culture is clearly defined, it makes it easier for leaders and employees to demonstrate better judgment. Because culture is born out of our values, then we should know how to behave, interact, treat each other, and respond to events and changes in our work environment. This is pretty straightforward, if, from a cultural perspective, we know who we are and who we are not.

Strong leadership teams demonstrate congruence in their actions and behaviors as it relates to their culture (remember the visionary, cult-like cultures from Built to Last?). This provides clarity for the workforce and contributes to high energy levels and stronger employee commitment. If that is the case, stronger employee commitment leads to higher retention and increased productivity. This has a trickle-down effect as well because increased ROI equals increased profit. So leaders in high-performing cultures practice what they preach—they respond rather than react.

Employees want to be on the winning team, they want to work for responders—not reactors. Much like in the situation of an acquisition, brands can be decimated by leadership behavior. Your brand is your culture, and any tarnish on your company armor will reflect into your brand.

Excerpted from Lizz Pellet, The Cultural Fit Factor: Creating an Employment Brand That Attracts, Retains, and Repels the Right Employees (SHRM, 2009).

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