It depends on how they are used.
Where they form the lifeblood of the organisation, defined in a way that people understand, values can underpin a culture to enable an organisation to succeed. However, if they are just words in your annual report……. you probably shouldn’t bother.
The phrase “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast” explains why they can be so important. Attributed to Peter Drucker, albeit made famous by Mark Fields, President at Ford, Drucker used this to describe the reality of what can happen if a company disconnects their strategy from the culture of their organisation.
Business strategies often look at where an organisation wants to grow, or what business they should be in, but overlook who the organisation wants to be, what they are great at or even what they are at a unique advantage to do. These latter questions focus on organisational culture.
Many organisations dismiss culture as a bit too “soft and fluffy” to include when considering their strategy, or provide lip service to cultural considerations. But cultivating the right organisational culture can be a key differentiator. Managing culture is not easy, as it grows and evolves over time taking on a life of its own. But there are some key steps to help you harness the beast!
A key tool that can help you cultivate the right culture for your organisations is organisational values. Ideally with underpinning competencies and behaviours. These values need to be communicated effectively around your organisation so that your people know what they mean, why they matter and how they need to behave to demonstrate these values.
Values are often created as aspirations the organisation want to live up to, but they bear no relation to what it is really like to work there. Aspirational values are not bad in themselves, but there needs to be a clear strategy to ensure that behaviours and competencies supporting aspirational values are instilled in the organisation.
Ensuring that your people demonstrate the behaviours that support your values, and thereby a desired organisational culture, is not always easy.
One example we use of how this can go awry is one of a high flying lawyer sacked for making derogatory comments on camera about Liverpool football fans that were inconsistent with the company ethos and values. This exemplifies how a senior figure in the organisation who does not demonstrate the behaviours underpinning values and culture can significantly impact an organisation’s reputation and its ability to achieve its strategic goals.
In order for values to make a difference to your organisational culture you need to ensure they are:
- Real – reflecting what it is like to work in your organisation not only how you want it to be
- Understood – defined in a way that your people can relate to and are able to demonstrate
- Present – in the fabric of all your organisation does, role modelled at all levels within the organisation