When organizations embark on the journey to establish an intentional corporate culture, they generally start by establishing clarity on the bedrock of an organization’s DNA: values and behaviors. I’ve worked with many people who roll their eyes at this notion, thinking that selecting values is “stupid” or “a waste of time.” In some cases their thinking may be right (though I’d quibble with the choice of words), depending on the organization.
But let’s be clear, the vast majority of organizations — either enterprise-wide or within large business units — benefit greatly from meaningful dialogue around organizational beliefs and expectations. The important outcome: clarity about what the organization stands for; who they hire, promote and retain; and where they invest their talent dollars.
When should organizations go through this effort?
- When everything is going great– and you can’t imagine why you’d ever need this clarity. When things are going extremely well and it feels as if the organization is running like a tight ship, it’s still important to memorialize what got you there. All organizations go through periods of disruption, and it’s important to have those guiding principles at hand to serve a framework moving forward.
- You’re hiring a lot of people. You’ve grown a lot, but now you’re about to grow at a more accelerated pace. You’re no longer able to hire friends or friends of friends and now you’re hiring strangers (gulp!) — and sometimes those strangers are now managing employees. Corporate values create clarity about hiring and expectations on the job, streamlining onboarding and increasing the likelihood your new hires will work out.
- Significant executive leadership team member turnover in the past two years. These values should create an essential foundation for how teams operate and interact with one another. If you’ve had significant turnover, it’s worth either revisiting your stated cultural values or freshening them to represent where the companies stands today.
- Retention and low employee engagement are real issues. These metrics are signals that something is off– and starting with either affirming or updating your corporate values creates both clarity and alignment for any organizational health initiative designed to address the root cause(s).
The effort to clarify your corporate values is a big one and when done well, there is brainstorming, rigorous debate, prioritization and alignment. These values should be aspirational and honor where you’ve been and where you need to go This usually involves facilitated and structured meetings to lead to a healthy outcome that everyone can buy into.
Unfortunately, most companies do not understand how to clarify the values unique to them. Many times the fault lies in a lack of ongoing commitment and communication. When working with companies in cultural distress, I’ll see the values on walls– and usually even in performance reviews. But when speaking with employees, they feel the values are an “HR” thing, and don’t represent either the current reality or where the organization is looking to go. Of course, this lack of alignment can cause skepticism or disillusionment, and employees can feel disconnected, which can drive turnover.
Companies committed to establishing their values must also have a strong commitment to living them. This can be done by ensuring that hiring and promotion criteria are aligned, employee communication is robust to ensure clarity with organizational purpose and managers are prepared to lead according to your bedrock values.
Catherine Malloy Cummings is a breakthrough human resources strategist known for her ability to transform HR teams into champions of revenue and agents of business growth. She is also a speaker and author, serving as a passionate advocate for HR’s potential to drive corporate strategic advantage. Follow her on Twitter at @ChiefHRChampion.