Too Often Corporate Values Create Employee Cynicism
Does this quote sound like your organization’s relationship with its “Values”?
I have a lot of beliefs and I live by none of them…They're just my beliefs…They make me feel good about who I am. But if they get in the way of a thing I want … I do that. - Louis CK
Comedians can often be philosophers, social critics and even business analysts. In this one quote Louis CK articulates what is wrong with the way so many organizations write their values. Organizations write into their overt values the items they think they would like to be even if they don’t plan on actually following them.
Each time a value is broken, especially by a senior leader, more cynicism is earned by the employees. Cynicism about the values and senior leadership has a negative impact on multiple aspects of the business. Cynicism will drive down retention while also reducing the amount of discretionary effort that employees put forth.
Any time you write into your values any behaviours that won’t be lived by the leaders during tough times, then you are creating separation between the overt and covert values of the organization. The covert values are the ones that truly drive decision making for your organization and are the ones that employees relate to. Alignment between your overt and covert values will help to improve engagement and retention because employees will know what to expect. As well, organizational decisions will be aligned to the values that employees expect reducing ambiguity in their daily work lives.
Questions to ask yourself about your organization’s Values:
Are the overt values the same as the values that truly drive the organization?
Do leaders in the organization live the written values at all times?
Do all employees know what the values are?
Do employees live the overt values?
If your organization’s overt values aren’t lived at all times by leaders then it is time to scrap them and think about the history of your organization. Every organization has stories of what it actually means to work there. Those stories can help you articulate your values in a meaningful way that will align your overt values with the real direction of your organization. To write values that will have a positive impact, you need to write behaviours that will be lived by all members of the organization.
What is a Value?
A value goes beyond a belief. A value is more strongly held and emotionally charge plus it will resist any forces to change. Most importantly it is not situationally applied but rather universally applicable to all situations at all times and circumstances.