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Do you have Workplace Values?

Does your organisation have values? The answer may surprise you. It usually isn’t a simple yes or no. More on that in a moment.

Before we focus on whether you have values or not, or if the values exist, we need to consider a frequently asked question: are values worth it? With the effort to create and implement them and ensure everyone knows and understands them, is it all worth it? My response is, unequivocally, yes!

If you read the previous article about defining your ideal workplace culture, you will know that one of the best ways to demonstrate your culture is to have a clear set of values. We describe those values as our promise to each other – when we come to work, how will we be treated? How are we expected to treat others? 

Organisations commonly associate external-facing values with internal-facing values – which are both critical factors, but we believe they should be dealt with separately. Very often, the values that define the way we want our team to work together, are not the same values we want to use when working with our external stakeholders, with the people we serve. 

That doesn’t mean either set of values is less relevant or important; it just means that different sets of values are most significant for each of those groups. We refer to the external-facing set of values as our philosophy: the reason we exist. This reason represents our promise to the people we serve. 

This article is all about the internal-facing values or our promise to each other. So, back to that question, does your organisation have values? This question comes up every time we sit with a new organisation to discuss their workplace culture. Most leaders tell me they do have a set of values for the team. You might be reading this and realising that you don’t have values. Your values should be your priority. 

When leaders tell me their organisation has values, my follow up question is, ‘What happens when someone does something that is not consistent with those values?’

Quite often, unfortunately, the answer is, ‘Well, not much. You know, we have values, but no one does much about making sure they are observed.’

My response? ‘In that case, you don’t really have values. You have something pretty, something nice written on a piece of paper somewhere, and I know that at some point, that was meaningful to the organisation. But the reality is, if those behaviours aren’t lived, then they’re not real. You don’t really have them.’

A team’s workplace values exist to guide behaviour. They exist to help people make choices consistent with the workplace culture we are trying to create. If there aren’t consequences when people make inconsistent choices, then the values are not guiding behaviour. After a short time, people look around and think, ‘No one else takes these seriously, why should I?’

There is a whole other level here, of course. In some organisations, it is worse – the values are not lived. Thus, people don’t even know what values are when they’re not guiding behaviour and choices. In these situations, values are used as a marketing piece rather than a genuine tool to shape great workplace culture. 

Wherever you sit on the values spectrum, be honest with yourself. If there are no consequences, when people don’t observe values, you don’t really have values. If values are important to you, make it a priority to revisit them: ask whether they are still relevant, and then look at strategies to make sure they are reflected in everyday choices and actions. We will help you by drilling down on this topic in future articles.

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