If you’re serious about your organisation’s purpose and values, you’ll know that articulating and agreeing them is just the beginning of a much longer journey.
Embedding your values in your organisation is a critical step on that journey. In fact, the statements themselves mean very little until your employees live and breathe them every day.
That’s easier said than done. Employees are frustrating creatures: shrewd, ambitious, flawed humans who like to form their own opinions – and who base those opinions on the evidence of their own eyes, rather than on what they’re told by head office. It’s very inconvenient, especially if you’re tasked with convincing them your organisation is committed to living its values.
You can make it easier for them to believe you by making sure their day-to-day experience aligns with what you’re telling them. That’s the wisdom behind the adage, “I’ll believe it when I see it”.
It’s easier said than done… but we’ve put together a three-step plan to help you get started.
1. Tackle the biggest contradictions
If you’re leading your organisation’s purpose and values, chances are your time is precious. You need to focus on the activities that will make a real difference to company culture.
So if there’s a clear, systemic conflict between your values and culture – for example, if your values include treating colleagues and clients with respect, but your appraisal system rewards and promotes rude or ruthless employees – fix it. You’ll never convince savvy employees that your values are real if inconsistencies like this still exist.
2. Don’t hide the remaining issues
With your focus on the most important activities, there will always be a long list of smaller, less material issues that are outside your focus.
You can’t, for example, announce an ambitious carbon reduction goal one day, and rid your products of every little bit of unnecessary packaging the next. (And it probably wouldn’t get you much closer to that goal if you did.)
Yet it’s tangible improvements such as packaging that are most likely to capture the attention of your employees. That means it’s a mistake to ignore them, even if they are not strictly the most important issues for you. Instead, you can take steps to mitigate the impact of this disconnect on your employees’ goodwill.
- Never communicate on values-led topics until you have a clear plan in place to deliver the change. If you can explain the route to achieving your goal, it’s easier to show which actions are the most important.
- Make sure your communications strike the right tone. The focus should be on the vision of the future – but you also need to acknowledge where you are on the journey, and that many contradictions remain.
- Enlist the help of your employees to spot the contradictions that bother them the most. Then listen carefully and respectfully, take action where necessary – and, critically, communicate clearly when you have taken action in response to an employee’s idea.
3. Recognise contradictions as a sign of ambition
Finally, make sure you understand the complex truth about contradictions. They exist for one reason alone: because the organisation you want to be is better than the organisation you currently are. If you had no ambition, there would be no inconsistency.
So while you need to resolve issues like these, it’s also important to recognise them for what they are: an inevitable stage of your journey to becoming a better organisation.
Congratulations – you’re on your way!