The Value of Organizational Values

by Sharlyn Lauby on December 1, 2010

Recently, we’ve talked about vision and mission statements, so it only seems fitting that we finish this strategy trifecta with a post about organizational values.  IMHO, values are the most important of the three.

Values are the qualities that transform a company’s mission and vision into reality.  In essence, values outline corporate culture and play an important role in our everyday activities as managers.

Recruiting - Values should be the qualities we look for during job interviews.  People who demonstrate our organizational values, should be the ones we hire.  For example, if having a customer focus is one of your company values, then asking questions about delivering customer service would be key.

Training – Every company should include their organizational values in orientation.  In fact, they should be reinforced during every company training program.  Think about the impact of being able to link company values to leadership.

Performance - Performance appraisal systems should include the company’s organizational values.  We should reward performance that supports organizational values.

It seems so simple.  Your organizational values help you achieve your success.  Therefore, you hire for them, train to improve them and recognize/reward based upon them.

But in reality, we see plenty of cases where the values a business says are important aren’t the ones that get emphasized or acknowledged.  I wonder if that’s because organizations are conflicted about which values to select.

For example, I know of companies that thrive on an entrepreneurial culture.  They are competitive, profit/results driven and have a tremendous sense of urgency.  But their values don’t reflect any of these attributes.  Why?  Because those words may have some negative connotations.

Organizational values are unique to each company.  They shouldn’t just be politically correct marketing terms.  Let me repeat that – values shouldn’t just be politically correct marketing terms.  Values should represent the culture of the business.  It’s okay to be competitive and profit driven.  In some industries, it’s a necessity.

As you’re starting to plan for next year, think about your organizational values and whether they’re representative of your organization.  If they are, that’s great.  If they’re not, could it be time for a change?

Image courtesy of US Air Force

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Jay Kuhns December 1, 2010 at 8:10 am

Being honest and upfront about your values with both internal and external customers is critical. Being politically correct should not drive your values statement, honesty should.

Penny Jimison December 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Thanks for stressing the need to drive those values to the bottom line! I don’t think that most companies start out with the idea that the values expressed in their mission statements will just be PR. I think mission statements and values are written in off-site, executive retreats and are heart felt, but when they get back to the day-to-day business of running the company ideals are forgotten and the focus changes to getting the job done. I read an example where IBM was so adamant about their company culture being an organization that supported each other as a team, that when an employee was rude to another employee that he worked with, the manager of the offending employee rounded him up, marched him to the employee he had been rude to, and required him to apologize to the employee. Now there’s a culture that walks the talk!

Nicholas Klacsanszky December 3, 2010 at 5:50 am

I agree, values is the single most important part of companies’ organization. And HR professionals should be keen on linking these values with employees and the framework of the company. A great resource on this subject is the book From Gatekeeper to Trusted Advisor. It shows how to be an active HR professional that fulfills company values, as well as being respected as an important part of the company.

Nate Riggs December 3, 2010 at 2:03 pm

I like this post, Sharlyn. You hit the nail on the head in that core values are so important at multiple levels and functions of the organization. Zappos, for instance, has built enture marketing programs by leveraging their core values. Focusing on core values sometimes prevents you from hiring the wrong people as well.

That said, it’s interesting that most companies don’t know how to think about and get feedback on building their core values. Likewise, the real value-add from knowing your core values is when organizations live by them. That takes lots and lots of training… Values are not simply a document, they are a practice…

Krista December 3, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Thanks for your post, Sharlyn. My employer has really been focusing on our values in the last two years based on the book The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive. In addition to integrating our values into our interview questions, job descriptions, employee counseling forms, new hire orientation, criteria for employee awards, performance reviews, etc., we also make a point to refer to them ongoingly, including when we need to make decisions, personnel-related or otherwise.

Sharlyn Lauby December 6, 2010 at 10:55 am

Thanks everyone for the comments and stories!

@Jay – Totally agree. There’s something to that old cliché about honesty being the best policy.

@Penny – I use IBM as an example often. The values jam story is one of my faves.

@Nicholas – My apologies that your comment was delayed in posting. Darn those spam filters. Thanks for sharing the link.

@Nate – Excellent point. Companies should seek feedback on how they live up to their values.

@Krista – Thanks for sharing the book. Hope you don’t mind me adding the link!

iris n. December 7, 2010 at 11:40 pm

I’ve personally seen employees who are unaware of their company’s “core values” and this is quite a disappointment, because these “core values” shouldn’t just be some words that a company just includes into their logos and on their website, but it should be about how the culture of the organization should be.

Sharlyn Lauby December 10, 2010 at 8:37 am

Hi Iris. Thanks for the comment. You’re right – it’s important for employees to know what the organization’s values are. They should be highly visible within the company.

urja July 4, 2012 at 7:31 am

hi, i am looking for a questionnaire which will help me study “organizations value”.

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