Organizational Values

Organizational Values: The Most Underutilized Corporate Asset

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After over 30 years of working with organizations globally, I can confidently state that most companies don’t fully understand and embrace organizational values. Further, those that do have a competitive edge.

You only have to read the headlines to see abuses of power and corporate malfeasance: Wells Fargo, Amazon, NBC, Uber, United and The Weinstein Company, among others. Most of these companies say the right things. Unfortunately, they fail to act accordingly.

Take Wells Fargo. One of their values reads: “What’s right for customers. We place customers at the center of everything we do. We want to exceed customer expectations and build relationships that last a lifetime.”

Yet, they’ve often done the opposite. Story after story documents how Wells Fargo has systematically betrayed their customers’ trust. This is no way to build relationships that last a lifetime.

Not all value breeches are sensational enough to make headlines. But, make no mistake, they are equally damaging. Everyday violations eat away at morale, decimate employee engagement, and undermine your brand and bottom line.

I don’t think most corporations intend for this to happen. I believe they simply don’t know how to reinforce values while negotiating complex day-to-day demands.

Definitions

So, what to do? First, let’s make sure we have a shared definition of “corporate values.” Here are two I like:

The first comes from BusinessDictionary.com: “The operating philosophies or principles that guide an organization’s internal conduct as well as its relationship with its customers, partners, and shareholders.”

The second comes from a pioneer in the field of organizational development, Edgar Schein: “The rules of behavior. It is how the members represent the organization both to themselves and to others. This is often expressed in official philosophies and public statements of identity. It can sometimes be a projection for the future, of what the members hope to become.”

Reading these, it’s not hard to imagine how values might be applied to guide and influence nearly every aspect of organizational life.

Yet, more often than not, values are relegated to a page on a website or in a binder. In fact, most leaders and employees can’t even recite their organizational values, so it’s no mystery they don’t apply them. This is a huge missed opportunity. 

Diagnostics

Is your company walking the talk? This is a question that needs to be asked regularly. Reflection is an essential precursor to calibration, learning and growth.

To assess your current state of effectiveness, ask yourself if any of these statements are true for you or your organization:

You

  • You have difficulty recalling your organizational values.
  • You feel drained, unmotivated or burned out.
  • You have difficulty meeting objectives or feel unfulfilled even when you do.
  • You find yourself procrastinating.
  • You feel misunderstood, disempowered or resentful at work.

Organization

  • The organizational strategy is unclear.
  • Trust in leadership is low.
  • Decision-making processes are opaque and/or decisions don’t stick.
  • Morale, engagement and/or productivity are low.
  • The board or leaders think the values don’t apply to them.
  • People are promoted or rewarded even when behaviors contradict values.
  • Inappropriate (bad) behaviors are not addressed effectively.
  • Employees tend to keep their personal and work lives separate.

If a few or more of these statements are true, you probably have a values gap. Either your organization isn’t living its values, or your personal values aren’t aligned with your organization. 

The Fix

A commitment to organizational values and personal alignment with said values can be a huge business differentiator.

You can draw a straight line from values to performance. When employees see leaders acting with integrity, trust in leadership strengthens. This improves morale, which correlates with employee engagement. Engagement generates productivity and ultimately drives strategy. In addition, values-driven leaders shape culture by creating a critical mass. Never forget that culture eats strategy for lunch.

Here’s how great companies implement values:

Values guard culture. Values should be visible in how you treat each other internally, and how you engage with everyone in your extended community. Every relationship matters and builds (or undermines) a values-driven culture. This is especially true for leaders. They are the most important stewards of culture and must embody the values in everything they do or say. Also, consider whether your organizational structure and employee development initiatives support your stated values.

Values are embedded and celebrated. Every day, values need to be called out, modeled, discussed and celebrated from the top down. For example, choose an employee of the month for being the best role model of values. Informal reinforcements might look like taking a great employee to lunch or showing public appreciation.

Values are a part of all performance discussions. Too often, we evaluate and reward employees for business deliverables without consideration of values. This communicates that values don’t matter, especially if the same person has exhibited poor behavior. Instead, send a message that values do matter by collecting feedback through 360 evaluations, upward appraisals and customer satisfaction surveys.

Values guide decision making. Revisit values at the start of any decision-making process. Later, use them to gauge the effectiveness of your decision-making process and to ensure that decisions are congruent with your stated ideals.

Values are user-friendly. One organization I worked with had 10 values and 2-3 behaviors for each value. The consequence was no one remembered them. We recommend four values with associated behaviors to ensure that they are succinct and memorable.

Values are revisited. Revisit, edit and recommit to your values annually. As companies change, it is essential to ensure that you are still focused on the right ideals and behaviors.

The word “value” is defined as the importance, regard or worth that something is believed to deserve. If you make a point to genuinely embody your organizational values by embedding them in all your processes and discussions, then surely you will be telling everyone that they truly matter, and your company will reap the benefits of setting clear expectations in an environment where people are held accountable.

In other words, if you want your values to matter, you need to keep them front and center.

About:  Eugene Dilan, Psy.D., SPHR is the Founder and CEO of the DILAN Consulting Group.

This article was first published at Forbes.com (April 2018). 

Eugene's Thoughts On Amazon

With the recent hubbub regarding the Amazon workplace, I’m genuinely thankful to Jeff Bezos and Amazon for inspiring a conversation about values and culture.

True or not, the alleged issues at Amazon are not surprising – and certainly not isolated. I personally see similar issues daily across all kinds of organizations, from start-ups to established enterprises and non-profits.

Companies genuinely struggle to meet competing demands. On the one hand, everyone wants increasing profits. Organizations are under pressure to do more with less and deliver short-term results. On the other hand, we are appalled to learn about companies with less-than-ideal (or worse) working conditions.

Sadly, the result of this conflict is a trend towards an “on-demand and on-call” workforce. While this issue is rife with complexity that cannot be addressed adequately in this short space, in my humble opinion, we — as a community and as leaders — need to step back and consider if it is even ethical. All too often "on-demand and on-call" leaves workers voiceless and vulnerable, working with no job security or predictable income.

The bottom line is that none of this is sustainable. So what’s the answer?  Leadership!

Leaders are the stewards of organizational values, which drive behaviors, and ultimately shape company culture. Today more than ever, companies need to develop leaders who walk the talk and are willing to buck the trends. Starting on day one, leaders need to realize that what they say or do – or fail to — has serious consequences.

Commonly these so-called soft conversations about values and organizational culture get put on the back burner – a conversation for another day when “we have more time or money.” And even if they do have the conversations, values may end up posted on the wall but not embedded in behavior.

Unfortunately, our experience at the Dilan Consulting Group is that these critical conversations often happen after a negative event — a mass exodus, lawsuit, bad PR. Only then do leaders finally stop and ask: “How did we get here? How do we make it better?” And usually these questions come with fingers pointing outward, when the reality is the leaders themselves have been shaping their organization’s culture all along whether or not they were conscious of it. Who they are and how they show up directed the personality of their organization, for better or worse.

Without mindfulness, even the best intentions can fall out of sync with values. Conversations about values and behaviors have to happen early and often because every action matters. Each decision creates lasting consequences that either build or erode gains.

Smart leaders start with culture in mind. They know that how they speak and behave, and the decisions they make, quietly create a picture that tells their employees what really matters.

It is never too late to start this conversation inside your organization. While shifting culture can be a slow process, you can reach critical mass faster if you proactively invest in developing your leaders and cultivating the values and behaviors that will lead towards sustainable, long-term success. The truth is that the competing demands highlighted above do not have to be mutually exclusive. It is possible to have great working conditions and consistently improve your bottom line. If this seems daunting, know you do not have to do it alone. We’re here to help.

About:  Eugene Dilan, Psy.D., SPHR, SHRM-SCP is the Founder and CEO of the Dilan Consulting Group.

Supercharging your Innovation Capabilities

Have you ever tried to build an innovative organization, or wondered how to make innovation happen?  If so, you'll know it's difficult because innovation is about releasing the potential in your leaders and teams. Unlike traditional management, the role of the innovation driven leader is not to set vision and motivate others to follow it. Instead, it’s to create a community willing and able to innovate. The challenge is to build an organization capable of innovating again and again.

INNOVATION versus INVENTION

Innovation is the introduction of something new or a better way of doing something that adds value. It is generally linked to positive changes in efficiency, productivity, quality, competitiveness, and market share. It differs from invention in that it uses a better but not necessarily new process, device, or method to generate novel ideas or processes with social impact, life-changing advances, and economic value. An invention, on the other hand, is a unique novel device, method, composition, or process. It is the creation of something that has never been made before and is recognized as the product of unique insight which extends the boundaries of human knowledge, experiences or capabilities. 

INNOVATION ENABLERS

Case studies confirm that an organization’s persistent dedication to innovation is what sets great companies apart. Findings also point to the complementary role of organizational culture and key enablers facilitating innovative thoughts into actions that improve organizational performance and gain market competitiveness. The following are some key enablers of innovation: 

Innovation Driven Leadership Within an innovating system, innovation driven leaders provide a source of inspiration that produces energy for seeking challenging, exploring, and risk-taking. They also reinforce the right behaviors and correct the wrong one in their teams. They ensure that individuals at all levels are able to work effectively as a team member within and across functions. Innovation driven leaders understand the innovative thinking methodology, how an innovating ecosystem works, and how to correct elements of their organization and culture that do not effectively support innovation. Such leaders expand and sustain organizational innovation capacity by drawing out the genius in each person and assemble them into innovations that represent a collective product. Most critically, innovation nurturing behaviors, build trust, and open communication, are comfortable taking risks, and provide a sense of protection, safety and care. 

Organizational Culture And Values   An organization’s culture is the combination of spoken and unspoken rules that define how members should behave to be successful.  Some of the most important elements of culture that support innovation include trust, open communication, openness to and respect for people’s ideas, teamwork across functions, risk tolerance, technology support, recognition, and diversity of thinking styles and backgrounds.  Research shows culture enables people to innovate.  An innovative culture defines identity and market, and encourages the workforce to ask questions, share ideas, and engage in dialogue.  It strengthens an organization’s capability to collaborate and encourages research and experimentation through quick pursuit, evaluation, creative resolution, and adjustments.  Innovative culture also captures commitment and ensures organizational health, standards, stability, and adaptability. 

Collective Identity   Members of innovative organizations generally have the skills that allow them to accomplish their role in their innovating systems.  In such systems, interactions among members are critical for turning an idea into a process, product, and/or service.  Everyone applies innovative thinking to solve complex business problems they face.  As a collective, they are a community with a focused innovation strategy and a purpose for why the group exists.  Purpose makes people willing to take risks and do the hard work inherent in innovation.  As each team member applies innovative thinking to solve complex business problems faced by the organization, they not only contribute to the organization’s identity but also build the organization’s framework for innovation.  Hence, being a member of such an organization confirms purpose and creates meaning for work. 

People, Willingness, And Ability   If you’re trying to build an innovative organization, you must first understand only individuals and teams innovate.  Willingness among organizational members to innovate is necessary but not sufficient for innovation to flourish if the ability to do so is not there.  Organizational culture is a critical foundation for innovation and people’s willingness to innovate.  However, organizations, cultures, technology, and processes as independent entities do not innovate.  They support, facilitate or inhibit the people who desire to innovate.  Hence, it is critical for organizations to train their people to innovate, think about how to create value for customers, and understand that an organization’s future depends on innovation.

Preparedness   Innovation doesn’t come from organized plans.  It comes from stakeholders’ preparedness to address challenges and problems.  Training and development are thus fundamental to ensuring that leaders, managers, and individuals have the knowledge and skills necessary to innovate in the right place and at the right time.  To prepare and transform one self and others into creatively-innovating individuals, one needs to reduce individual innovation constraints by

  • Asking, watching, experimenting, learning, and trying

  • Treating idea generation as an exploration, not just a search

  • Learning to reformulate problems through problem-framing and problem-solving strategies.

  • Networking and answering four very basic human centered design questions: “What is?”  “What if?”  “What wows?”  “What works?

  • Accepting ambiguity and becoming risk tolerant

Organizational Agility Finally, agility is key in people-centric, innovative organizations. Simplified operations and an agile workforce are critical to an innovative ecosystem. Being an innovative organization requires well-thought out organizational practices and strategies that stretch beyond just challenging the status quo and creating value. The entire organization, including the executives, human resources, finance, training and development, and information technology must be agile for it to become a forerunner of innovation in its industry. 

Now that you know what it takes to foster an innovative organization, you’re ready to start planting and nurturing innovation enablers without worrying about where to begin or how to build an innovative organization. 

About: Alice Fong, Ed.D., R.D. is a Senior Consultant with the Dilan Consulting Group and has over 30 years of experience designing and building innovative organizations in the Federal Government.

Millennials In the Workplace: Not So Different After All

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The millennial generation, unlike any before it, is receiving an unprecedented amount of media attention given the growing awareness that they will increasingly comprise a significant portion of the workforce over the next five to ten years. Despite the growing research touting how the generations are different and should be treated differently, have you ever wondered if they really are? If so, the results of the 2014 Millennial Impact Report by Achieve may help to shed some light because it highlights the attitudes about work culture, relationships and resources and their role across the work lifecycle (from hire to retention). 

However, if you have been reading the research on employee engagement or have read some recent bestselling business books, then you may have noticed that the so-called millennial differences are perhaps not so unique after all. We venture a little further in our hypothesis by proposing that the changes we are seeing are more a function of the now changed psychological contract between employers and employees. 

Gone are the days of climbing the corporate ladder on your way to a golden handshake. In their absence, today’s employees want continuous learning as a way to secure their futures. They are spending long hours at work with recent data from the Federal Reserve Economic Data Report (2013) confirming that Americans work more hours a week than any other industrialized nation. So while employees have come to accept that technology can blur the boundaries between personal life and work, they have also realized the value of meaningful relationships in the workplace as well as the importance of work that helps to make the world a better place. 

Furthermore, it is no coincidence that both of these factors probably also make the work itself and the continuous demands on their personal time a lot more tolerable or enjoyable. In other words, building deep relationships and contributing to “cause work” is likely a buffer against the stressors that might normally lead to decreased engagement, burnout or quitting a job. 

Let’s begin by taking a look at the idea of cause work and how the Achieve report says it plays an important role in hiring, retention and shaping culture. We believe all of this to be true. In addition, we propose that this is not a new idea. In his book Drive, Daniel Pink (2009) wrote about what he called the surprising truth about what motivates us. He explains that we are all motivated intrinsically toward autonomy, mastery and purpose. He further explains that “our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities” is the new key to high performance. 

Similarly, Sirota (2005) in The Enthusiastic Employee introduced the Three Factor Theory of Employee Engagement, which describes the need for Equity, Achievement and Camaraderie in order to improve and maintain positive employee engagement. Specifically, the Achievement factor in his theory speaks to the need to take pride in one’s accomplishments by doing things that matter and doing them well. Even Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter as early as 1997 were writing about the importance of “meaningful and valued work” in The Truth About Burnout as a means to improve engagement and reduce stress. 

An additional finding from the Millennial Impact Report indicates that employees prefer to work with fellow employees as part of this cause work, which likely has an impact on engagement and decreases turnover. This echoes similar ideas proposed by Sirota (2005) who spoke of camaraderie, Pink (2009) who focused on “communities being unified around a common purpose” and Maslach and Leiter (1997) who discussed “a sense of community.” 

The bottom line is that we are not disagreeing that these are all important variables but that to say that they are strictly engagement indicators for the millennial generation might be a missed opportunity in that Benko and Anderson (2010) in The Corporate Lattice speak to an oncoming convergence of needs between the generations. And, indeed most of the research on engagement also echoes many of the other key findings of the Millennial Impact Report. 

In conclusion, the 2014 Millennial Impact Report adds great depth to our knowledge of what makes Millennial employees tick; however, we think it is an error to assume that it describes only the Millennial generation and believe this data is actually applicable across the spectrum to all employees signifying additional data in a shift in the psychological contract between employers and employees. Furthermore, we think this topic is only beginning to be understood and requires additional study in order to understand its long-term implications for how we work and live.

About:  Eugene Dilan, Psy.D., SPHR is the Founder and President of the Dilan Consulting Group. Eric Prensky, Ph.D. is a Senior Consultant with the Dilan Consulting Group.

This article was first published in the APA Center for Organizational Excellence: Good Company Newsletter (August, 2014).