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!
Warning! Values May Be Detrimental to Your Organization’s
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:
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.