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Welcome to the May 2008 issue of Alignment Solutions! This month we take a look at an organizational practice that we see more and more often these days: identifying values that executives would like their employees to exemplify. But tell me truthfully: what percent of your employees can identify your organization’s values? And how many of those individuals can tell you what each value means in their own jobs? Unless you can answer 100%, you probably will find this month’s articles of interest.

The premise of the Feature Article is that values may be detrimental to organizational well-being. Specifically, I contend that having misaligned values is more harmful than having no identified values at all.

The Business Solutions section offers suggestions for how to personalize values so that managers and employees can agree on specific behaviors that exemplify each value.

The Personal Solutions section challenges you to consider whether there are discrepancies between your personal and professional values and those of your organization, and it recommends actions you can take if necessary.

I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com to find articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!

 

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Warning! Values May Be Detrimental to Your Organization’s Health

On its face, the practice of identifying values to guide workplace behaviors and decisions seems reasonable, productive, and highly desirable. Yet such values may, in fact, be detrimental to the organization’s health. In fact, I contend that unless managers go beyond merely identifying organizational values, unintended negative outcomes are likely to occur in workplaces in which employers have articulated values.

The fact that values are subjective is one reason they may be harmful to the organization’s well-being. Let’s take integrity as an example. Although each of us has a “picture” of what integrity looks like, that image varies from person to person – and in fact, often is very fuzzy. We tend to think, “I’ll know integrity when I see it.” That’s not good enough: when the pictures vary, so do the judgments of who is acting with integrity and who is not.

Articulating a set of values establishes the expectation that managers’ behaviors and decisions will reflect those values. Thus, misalignment between stated values and actual behaviors is another reason why values may be detrimental to organizational health. In fact, disparities between words and actions result in very real costs to the organization. For example, if such gaps cause perceptions of inconsistency, favoritism, and unfairness, the result may be employees who feel disillusioned, angry, betrayed, disappointed, confused, and distrustful.

We can maximize the likelihood that employees’ expectations will be met by identifying behaviors that indicate people are acting with integrity, having conversations around those behaviors, and distinguishing clearly between desirable and undesirable behaviors. Once we have identified and communicated the behaviors represented by the value of integrity, we can have a productive conversation.

Here are three of nine steps you can take to ensure that your organization’s values are not detrimental to its health:

  1. Have managers and employees collaborate on personalizing organizational
    values – i.e., identify specific behaviors that demonstrate each value.
  2. Ensure that organizational systems support the values and do not punish desired behaviors.
  3. Hold managers accountable for consistently modeling the desired behaviors.

What percent of your employees can identify your organization’s values? How many of those individuals can tell you what each value means in his/her job? Unless you are able to answer nearly 100%, you may want to consider taking steps to improve the health of your organization!

For a more complete discussion of this topic, including examples of how to personalize values and a list of the remaining six steps to assess the health of your organization’s values-based practices, please see my article Warning! Values May Be Detrimental to your Organization’s Health on my web site.

 

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How to Incorporate Values into the Organization’s Culture

Once your organization has identified the values it wants employees to exemplify, the work has just begun! Before those values can begin to permeate the organization, there must be a common definition of each value AND a common “picture” of what it looks like in action. Take the value of respect, for example: how do you know when someone is treating you with respect? Alternatively, when someone says “You are being disrespectful,” how do you know exactly what he/she means? You cannot tell unless managers and employees agree in advance what specific behaviors represent each value. Here are three general steps to begin to incorporate values into your organization’s culture:

  1. Reach consensus on specific behaviors that demonstrate each value.
    (Examples of behaviors that represent the value of integrity may be found in
    the related article on my web site.)
  2. Insist that executives consistently model the desired behaviors.
  3. Reinforce and support the desired behaviors publicly.

 

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Aligning Personal and Professional Values with Organizational Values

How closely do your personal and professional values match the values espoused by your organization? To the extent that the sets of values are not in sync, you probably are experiencing what I call contextual misalignment, a phenomenon that results when a practice or behavior that serves us well in one area of our organizations or lives does not serve us well in other areas. For example, if you consider yourself a “green” person (i.e., someone who engages in environmentally friendly practices) but you work for a company whose operations damage the environment, you are not going to be happy in your job. Similarly, if your professional values are at odds with the organization’s values, you won’t be able to tolerate the discrepancy for long. For example, teachers learn how to educate students who have a variety of learning styles, but they may be confronted with school systems that demand they conform to a “one size fits all” approach to education.

Here are three steps you can take to ensure that your personal and professional values are aligned with your organization’s values:

  1. Identify clearly what your personal and professional values are.
  2. Compare your values to your organization’s stated and unstated values.
  3. If the values are aligned, celebrate! If they are not aligned, start looking for another job – and don’t accept one before checking for matching values.

Values are such an integral part of who we are that we cannot tolerate conflicts among them for long before we begin to suffer negative consequences such as stress. We either need to change our values, change the organization’s values, or move on. In most cases, moving on is the only viable option. Seize it as an opportunity to greatly enhance the quality of your life. You may be surprised at what you’ve been missing!

 

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Date of Publication: May, 2008
Pat@BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com
www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2008 - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch