Over the last ten years companies have directed much energy toward their corporate cultures. This is a worthwhile investment– culture sets the standard for acceptable and also strong performance.
The shared knowledge that makes up a group’s culture also allows people to act quickly and effectively when they encounter familiar situations – experience says that this lion will eat me so I do not have to think long before I run up that tree.
In an organisation, cultural norms guide us to what matters, be it revenue generation, customer service or employee well-being. ‘Values’ describe the main operating principles that will lead to success.
Values: In theory and in practice
Values pasted on meeting-room walls reinforce the standards of expected behaviour. Still, espoused values (the ones people talk about) have real merit only when they become part of how people behave in practice.
It is important for an organisation to act with what we call integrity – that is, to do what it says it will do. (Organisational integrity is not quite the same as living by high ethical standards.)
People will view the organisation as hypocritical if it says one thing and does another. Experience suggests this has a negative effect on drivers of performance such as team morale and staff retention.
When practice is consistent with the values on the wall, we say that integrity is high. When practice diverges from stated values, then integrity is low.
Engage for Success’s Organisational Integrity and Values Thought and Action Group (TAG) explored this question of values alignment. We surveyed 680 people in the UK arm of a supplier to the energy and water sector. 312 people responded.
Aligning behaviours with organisational values
What drives peoples’ sense of how well the organisation is aligned with the values that it says matter?
Looking at three main cohorts, or levels – line managers, senior leaders and colleagues – we discovered that senior leaders’ behaviours and decisions had the greatest bearing on overall values alignment. The second-most influential behaviours and decisions were those of fellow team members.
We found that a line manager’s actions had the least effect on overall values alignment. However, when line managers’ behaviours and decisions were aligned with organisational values this had the greatest impact on employee engagement.
Alongside how well colleagues’ behaviours were aligned with agreed values, our study examined practices – how the organisation operates on a day-to-day basis.
We found that treatment of customers, how people communicate internally, and how suppliers and partners – people outside the organisation – are treated had the greatest bearing on values alignment.
To conclude, when an organisation aspires to live up to its values, it is vital that senior leaders act with integrity and adhere to the standards they have agreed.
The actions of line managers cannot be forgotten because employee engagement is crucial to success.
Finally, day-to-day work, especially as it relates to how people are treated – within and outside the organisation – must be aligned with the values pasted on meeting-room walls.
Click here to see the full report from the Organisational Integrity and Values Thought and Action Group (TAG)
Author Bio: Quentin Millington, Organisational Integrity and Values TAG, Engage for Success