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Insight: When values don't align



When values don’t align

Have you noticed there is a growing trend for organisations* to share their core values? You may see values such as family, collaboration, or integrity feature on organisation’s websites and marketing material. This growing trend is one I support. However, when the values of an employee do not align with the organisational values, this can be problematic.  

In this two-part Insight, I will first explore why it is important for organisations to identify core values and how organisations are sometimes missing the mark. In part two, I outline how to respond from an organisational and individual perspective when values don’t align. 

Why values are important

It is heartening to see an increase in organisations sharing their core values. This trend towards purposeful, values led organisations is well aligned with recruiting and retaining employees who are seeking workplaces that offer greater depth than a traditional, transactional work experience.  

The process for defining these values is as varied as the values themselves. Some organisations manage the process internally and apply a simple approach of gathering senior managers or owners together to select which values seem to be a good fit. Others use a more comprehensive process using a consultant to engage employees and apply a range of tools to ultimately identify the values.

When executed well, organisations will then identify two to three core values. In turn, the values are embedded through systems, processes and workplace culture. There are clear communication strategies used so that all employees have clear and shared understanding of the links between the core values and all aspects of the business. Potential employees are recruited in accordance with the core values and the performance of employees can be measured objectively through the markers of expectation set out in the organisations’ values. Managers lead the way, role modelling through actions how these core values underpin the workplace culture. Employees walk the talk. High-performing teams come together and achieve organisational goals. This is what most would consider best practice.

However, when organisations miss opportunities to activate values, a misalignment between organisational values and individual values of employees can arise. This can contribute to fractures in performance, relationships, productivity and workplace culture. Before shifting to responding to situations where a misalignment in values has occurred in a workplace, first consider the ways in which an organisation may be missing the mark when defining core values.

Here are two examples of an organisation miss the mark when defining core values.

Example 1

One way an organisation can miss the mark is by not selecting accurate values.

If your organisation identified core values more than five years ago, or there has been a significant change within the organisation or marketplace– it is time to revisit the core values. I find using an audit to assess the impact of the core values can be a great way to identify opportunities for improvement. For more information about conducting an audit, contact me here.


Example 2

Your organisation has identified core values, but you don’t see any impact. You see examples of decisions being made that contradict the values and the behaviour of employees is the opposite to what your organisation stands for.

It is critical to understand exactly where the issues may be stemming from. Here are 5 steps to explore the how your organisation may be missing the mark.

  1. Employee awareness

Next time you hold a team meeting, ask how many people can identify one organisational value. Then ask how many can identify a second. Then, how many can identify all values. It is unlikely more than one person could spontaneously identify organisational values (unless they are on display in the meeting room).

Employees should have a basic level of knowledge about core values. If this is not the case, a communication strategy could address this issue and improve employee awareness.

2. Recruitment

Review current recruitment practices and see if there is any reference to core values? Whether it is featuring this information in advertisements, job packs or interview criteria, there are many opportunities through the recruitment process to reinforce core values.

I have seen instances where organisations have not applied core values to the recruitment process and subsequently appointed employees who do not perform or behave in alignment with core values. This creates the first risk of a value misalignment. At all stages of recruitment, candidates should be clear on what the core organisational values are, how these relate to performance, results and workplace culture. Recruiting new employees is a great opportunity to reinforce your core values and grow a workplace culture aligned with these values.  


3. Communication

What communication strategy was used to share and reinforce core values? Were employees given the time and opportunity to discuss the values to develop a shared understanding about the values within the business?

Simply announcing values in an email or team meeting is an inadequate way to ensure core values are communicated across an organisation. Assess which strategies were used to ensure all employees both heard and understood what was expected of them.

Reinforcing core values should be occurring on a regular basis to ensure the organisational values stay top of mind for all employees. Using a one-and-done method of communication will leave your core values as a one-dimensional gesture. Rather than leaving them in a document, identify the many and varied ways these can be embedded across the organisation. For example, in interpersonal communication, team meetings, decision making and strategic planning.


4. Performance  

Most organisations use a performance measure, either through individual reviews or team indicators. At each level of performance an organisation needs to reinforce core values.  Consistency is key here. Organisations should avoid embedding core values into performance appraisals without accompanying other strategies for reinforcement. Performance reviews should not blindside employees with feedback about poor performance. When values are used to criticise employee performance, the relationship between manager and staff will become fractured. When people feel unprepared for these conversations it can break trust and lead to conflict. Identifying core values is intended to improve workplace culture, not harm it.   


5. Aspirational  

As much as I advocate for setting big, ambitious goals – when organisations select aspirational values, they are meaningless. Claiming to be authentic can damage an organisation’s reputation if they don’t operate with transparency. Promoting your organisation as trusted but having no evidence of this claim can similarly result in reputational damage.


Have you identified any gaps in your organisation’s approach to core values? If you require more customised guidance to take action, get in touch with me here. 

In part 2 of this Insight, I will talk about what action can be taken on an individual and organisational level. By subscribing below, you will receive part 2 direct to your email. 

*I have used the term organisation to encompass organisations, companies and businesses that operate at any and all scales.

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