A set of values is more than a poster on a wall

A set of values is more than a poster on a wall

Continuing my series of answering questions sent in by you, this weeks question asks about the allimportant values of an organisation.

We recently came up with a set of values and rolled them out to everyone in the business. We even have them up on posters around the office but I still see people doing a lot of things that don’t match up. Why is that?

One of my favourite things to do is work with organisations to understand their values and how to use them every day in their businesses. Thanks for this question.

The answer is actually in your question. You noted “came up with a set of values”, which suggests to me that you’ve been through some kind of process that decided on a set of values the organisation needs to have.

The result of values that live on the wall, but not in the way the business acts, is a pretty common problem when a set of values is chosen rather than doing the work to understand what they really are – and if there are “a lot of things that don’t match up” then something is definitely out of sync.

Nothing sends a shudder down my spine like the values poster. It is nearly always a giveaway that here is a set of values mostly for show. Values that are deeply embedded in the way things are done and the way people think don’t need a poster, they are visible in every action taken and decision that gets made. People don’t need to learn them, or be reminded what they are, they already are them.

So your question is a pretty good indicator that the values have been applied and are not the real values of the bulk of the organisation, which is why they are out of alignment. Values and the culture they drive, doesn’t and can’t change on a dime.

Which leaves you with two choices.

Choice A is to try and get the people of the organisation to change so they embody the values that have been chosen. This is a long, long-term proposition. There will be people who just can’t or don’t want to. I often joke that the only way you change the values of an organisation is to fire everyone who doesn’t hold them.

Not suggesting you go that far but it gives you an indication of how difficult, time and focus consuming, expensive and destabilising it can be to try and change the values to something not already held by the majority.

Choice B is to go back to the drawing board and spend the time to uncover what they really are. And even if you are going to try and move to embrace your chosen values, you’ll need to know what the old ones are to map that journey.

A couple of great questions to get down to real values I often ask are:

  • “What are non-negotiables, things that people in your organisation won’t ever trade or do no matter what?”
  • “What do you care about so much you will do it even if it is a competitive disadvantage?”

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Great by Choice and of the above questions, has a useful article called ‘Aligning Action with Values’ – it is well worth reading.

Not knowing more about your situation I’m not sure whether Choice A or B would fit you better. However, if you like the people in your organisation and want to focus on what you care about and your customers then I’d suggest Choice B.

Choice A is really only ever the best option when the real values and culture they drive are so toxic it makes it hard to do business.

On a finishing note, even when the values are held by the majority of people in the organisation, there is always opportunity to be more conscious and deliberate in their use. Talking about them is always a start. Making sure the leadership is fully embodying them in all their actions and decisions is a must.

Beyond that bring them actively into all areas of the organisation – how and who you hire, how you market, back office and front office. The more they are visible in what and how things are done, the more likely everyone in the company will actively use them (oh and take down the posters).

I’ve written about values a lot over the past years so do go and check out a few of those blogs here and here for some additional reading including processes you can use to discover your values.

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Don’t miss the opportunity to get your brand questions answered by posting them on twitter @michelhogan or emailing me at [email protected].

See you next week with (your question here).

Michel is an Independent Brand Analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at michelhogan.com. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan


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