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Posted by Bob Brown on 24 Jun '14

Are shared values either realistic or achievable?

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In reality, all organisations are values-driven. The critical issue is whether these values are conscious, shared and lived, or remain unconscious and undiscussed. When values are not defined, the culture of the organisation is subject to the vagaries of the personality of the leader. When the leader changes, the values will change accordingly. Barrett

The values of an organisation set the rules by which it lives and define its corporate personality. If everyone lives by the same rules, the same values, then people trust each other. If there are not shared values then in the extreme there is anarchy, and generally people do not feel part of a coherent whole.

If there are no agreed values or the values say one thing and people do another then staff will use their judgement as to what they should do. This leads to inconsistency, a feeling of a lack of fairness, disputes and confusion both within the staff and from customers who won’t know what to expect. A company with no clear values will not be successful.

Shared values are only realistic and achievable if they are easy to understand, clear and translate into behaviour standards that are consistently upheld. For example, a company might have a value of being ‘international’ because it wants to sell worldwide. However if the office staff only speak English, there are no foreign papers, the website is in English, all the staff are British and the accounts staff can’t cope with queries in foreign languages then the ‘international’ value is meaningless. However many times international is written in mission statements or repeated as a value if the actions of the business don’t reflect an international view then the organisation does not in reality have ‘international’ as a value whatever it says.

Values need to address all the different levels of a company’s needs and these need to translate into clear behaviour standards.There is not a single set of values that is good, they will vary depending on the vision and mission, the industry sector and even the national culture. Values do not have to be boring; Iceland, the frozen food chain, has a value of Fun which translates into staff who are happy,  fun names for food, decorated stores and staff who are happy to chat and build relationships with customers.

While values should not be restricted to a narrow definition of business ethics it is important that business values do cover ethical areas. Staff need to know that they are supported when they make ethical decisions when issues arise such as:
What should I do when I’m asked or tempted to:
• cut corners on safety
• reduce quality when no one will see
• pay a bribe?

All value decisions are impacted by the ranking of the values. If people believe the chief value is making money at any cost then the values of safety, quality and honesty will be treated as subordinate and less important and managers and staff will be tempted to do what they think is most valued – make money at any cost.

We use a method to rank values so their priority is clear and the top value is what is core to the company. You can download our values tool the Principles Prioritiser© {file1}

A STORY OF VALUES
Many years ago Sarah went to a marketing course in Orange County with Jay Abrahams and one of the speakers had been a senior manager in Federal Express in the early days. He told the tale of how it had been set up so the founder could have an airline to run. All the depots, planes and staff were there but few customers. The founder Fred Smith famously even went to Las Vegas one week to gamble on blackjack to win the wages. Late one Friday the phone rang at a depot and the only person there was the receptionist. The caller was a bride waiting for her wedding dress that hadn’t been delivered. The receptionist didn’t hesitate the company value was “Absolutely positively overnight” so she located the dress, chartered a plane and got it there for the wedding the next day. Fred Smith, the founder of the company, demanded that his workers “treat every package as if it were the last package Fed Ex will ever handle”.

On Monday the man relating the story explained his shock on finding out what she had done and he asked what she was thinking about. “Well” she said “I know we guarantee “Absolutely positively overnight” so I was delivering and besides we’re going bust anyway.”

Not surprisingly the FedEx story was the talk of the wedding reception and at that wedding was someone who worked for a large photo processing company with a need for lots of overnight deliveries – they became a critical early large client of FedEx and as they say the rest is history….. 

As this case illustrates the power of values if they are clear is enormous and very powerful -  anyone in the company will instinctively know what behaviour will make them a hero and what will make them a villain without them having to check with a manager or corporate guidelines. How clear are your values?