Public trust in business is at a low point. While many businesses have values statements, they often conflict with one another or with the actual values of employees, which causes a values gap. Many business scandals over the years, such as the Enron incident, have led the public to view businesses as occupying the ethical low ground in society. Even the thousands of businesses that have not been tainted by scandal are not trusted.
On the other hand, some feel that the media has been too critical of businesses. These people often believe that the pursuit of profits will generate a better society. If people leave competitive markets alone, everything will work out for the best in the long term. However, this point of view ignores the fact that there are businesses doing real harm in the world.
With the implementation of modern technology, companies now live in fishbowls, with everything they do being scrutinized by individuals and agencies all over the world. The rise of globalization also means that different cultures may interpret a company’s values differently. For example, while child labor is prohibited in the West, some other cultures still embrace it as a legitimate business practice.
Most people want to build businesses that are inspiring and beneficial to society, but humans are complicated. There are times when people in business are seriously conflicted about what to do or how to behave. People often have a difficult time applying their values to business situations. There are very few truths that work everywhere for everyone, but there is a growing trend to put values in the center of the way people think about business. This new narrative is integral to bridging the values gap.
JUST BE AUTHENTIC
Being authentic is more difficult than it appears. It is also difficult to truly define “values.” Many believe that values are expressed in a person’s behavior. If a person says that respect is something he or she values, but that person continually shouts at people and calls them names, it would appear to others that respect is not truly one of his or her values. However, this way of viewing values fails to acknowledge that values are not just likes and dislikes, but are also the things people find the most important. Values should require introspection and reflection. They are easy to say but not easy to do.
Values tend to change frequently as well. As people grow and develop, their feelings, hopes, and dreams evolve with them. New technology can also cause people to rethink their values, as can different stages of life. For example, the idea of respect usually means something very different to a senior citizen than it does to a teen. Values are always set in context; different situations may call for different behaviors.
Values also help define a person’s identity. In the West, values are very individualized. In other parts of the world, values are often imparted from culture and society. The self is often thought of as a vessel for a person’s individual values and implies that people are free to choose what they do, but this view can go too far. People are connected to other people and to society as well. Complete individual freedom can result in estrangement.
Leading an authentic life is not merely stating one’s values and sticking to them. As life goes on, preferences change and circumstances change. To lead an authentic life, one must struggle with change and an evolving self-identity.
It is very difficult for an organization to be truly authentic. Organizations can employ thousands of individuals, which leads to inevitable conflict. To be truly committed to living their values, those in an organization must engage in conversations about its purpose, aspirations, history, and connections to stakeholders.
For an organization to perform at a high level, thrive, and innovate, it should use values as an opportunity to engage in dialogue. However, many people feel that when executives listen to employees it is only with the aim of making money, and employees who are motivated to participate are doing it for some sort of reward. A company can overcome this line of thinking by constantly keeping the lines of communication open. Values cannot be just words on a website; they must live in the day-to-day processes of companies.
Executives often try to find employees who say they have the same values as those claimed by the organization. This does not always work out for the best. If an organization claims a value it does not actually act out, those employees will become disheartened and disengaged, and they may even undermine the company.
Values statements have little benefit if they are just posted on websites or printed on company documents with little to no conversation. They must be the result of discussions and behavior. These statements need to be grounded in both the reality of what a business is actually doing and in its aspiration to do better. Senior executives should not just announce a value statement. Executives can lead value-setting conversations, but the final decision should be made collaboratively.
DO VALUES RIGHT OR DON’T DO THEM AT ALL
Once a business model has been created in terms of purpose and values, and once employees have been asked to support those values, the business needs to get it right. It is very difficult to get a second chance. There are seven common mistakes businesses make:
1.They just walk the talk: Values always have a situational context as well as a human context. When a person is participating, the associated emotions and pressures can be overwhelming.
2.They police their values: Adding values to a performance appraisal process often leads to people paying too much attention to how they are perceived in terms of values, and may lead them to harshly judge others without taking into consideration conflicts and difficulties that often arise.
3.Top management sets the values: Without discussing the values beforehand with employees, management may miss the boat and make employees feel threatened or unappreciated.
4.Values are used as excuses: When someone uses values as an excuse not to do something, it usually masks a conflict between the employee’s personal values and what he or she perceives as company values.
5.Values are seen as soft and fluffy: Many people believe that values are not subject to the same conversations as other elements of the business, but this often leaves employees wondering if a business is truly serious about its values.
6.Values do not lead to healthy debates: Conflict can produce breakthroughs, but only when conversations occur. Brushing conflict under the rug solves nothing.
7.There is aseparation of business and values: Separating the business from its values is a main cause of underperformance. Values need to be connected to the business model because they:
*Empower and engage employees.
*Activate business strategy.
*Are the wellspring for business growth.
*Yield vision and purpose.
*Lead to discipline, efficiency, and innovation.
Most organizations spend time focused on current goals and issues, which leaves little time for reflection. By being preoccupied with the present and future, companies have little time to figure out how decisions, actions, and behaviors have narrowed or widened their values gaps. By focusing on introspection, a business can uncover blind spots and understand the consequences of decisions.
When values conversations do not include introspection, rash decisions are made and mistakes are often repeated. Creating space for reflection and introspection facilitates success. Deep introspection may even expose an organization’s common assumptions, routines, norms, and processes, and may answer why values were ever implemented. Introspection can also reveal the things that are working well. Introspection should be embedded into everyday processes. Values through conversation (VTC) may involve taking a hard look at customer feedback or engaging in in-depth consultations with customers. Afteraction reviews (AARs) can also help businesses determine what is working and what is not.
Many people ignore ugly truths and hope they go away on their own. They usually do not, and can often get worse. Truths should be viewed as great triggers for change. Acknowledging ugly truths enables companies to become more open to discussing them and doing something about them.
Every organization is the sum of all the choices and decisions employees make. These choices shape an organization’s identity. Companies need to remember that viewing the present through the lens of company history can be quite enlightening. At a minimum, conversations about the past enable companies to uncover the convergence of their history and where they are now. Understanding history helps companies respect and honor their legacies and helps ensure that they see the bridges between past choices and future actions.
Storytelling is a great way to engage stakeholders. Understanding and sharing an organization’s history is vital for inspiring employees and ensuring that the founding story stays alive. Other ways to share history include rituals, grand celebrations, photos, and onboarding.
History is critical, but sometimes things have to be let go. Moving into another geographic region, with cultural and language differences, is a good example of a way to honor legacy and adapt. For example, when Disney opened a theme park in Paris, it assumed the visitors would want French foods and toned-down merchandise. In reality, visitors wanted the American experience. Disney also banned alcohol in the park even though it resided in the world’s largest wine-consuming country. These mistakes resulted in a loss of $900 million over two years.
Connectedness refers to how people converse and interact to achieve a collective purpose. Focus is placed on relationships with one another and the sharing of ideas. Connectedness is often missing in organizations because its importance is not even on top management’s radar. When connectedness is missing at work, life at work feels empty–there is no community. Humans are social animals, and connecting with one another is essential in driving innovation and success.
The starting point for understanding connectedness is a strong sense of “we.” Connectedness values help leaders build organizations that respect and value what everyone brings to the table. Leaders in connected organizations actively solicit input and engagement from everyone, even customers and communities. In moments of crisis, values become transparent to others. A strong collective identity cultivates a sense of pride and an environment where everyone can be a hero.
Companies should spend time cultivating relationships internally. When team members actually like one another, a lot more work is accomplished. Engaging in community and social activities, offering company retreats, and planning fun activities in the workplace can all support strong working relationships. (contact author – firstname.lastname@example.org for her #online training session)
When employees are inspired, they are able to set high aspirations. Aspirations represent an organization’s collective passion and purpose, painting a picture of the future it wants. People need aspirations to know what they are working toward. Aspirations help guide decisions, choices, actions, and behaviors as individuals work toward common goals. To feel intense dedication, a person’s work needs to matter and make a difference.
Research shows that companies that make a difference in the world perform better. Employees are often willing to take pay cuts if their companies are altruistic. These companies recognize how business can revolutionize the world for the better. They focus on making meaningful contributions. That is where aspiration and inspiration come together to foster passion and creativity. Meeting aspirational goals should be personally fulfilling for employees. By bridging personal and organizational growth, organizations enable employees to see what will personally benefit them.
Values are complicated. Organizations should pay more attention to how organizational values are implemented rather than to their actual content. If organizations’ values are to be meaningful to their members, there must be participation in bringing the values to life every day. In the event of a values violation, it is essential that the organization take action to address how the company will deal with the violation.