As organizations get to be more global, more diverse, more flexible and more agile in this digital world, it is imperative that they stay transparent to their employees and stakeholders although this is going to be a challenge for most. The management and the employees must operate through a ‘common fabric’ that ‘stitches’ them together cohesively in a collaborative manner in such dispersed and virtual organizations. This common fabric are a set of VALUES based on ones beliefs, convictions, ethics and principles which would be the ‘guiding principles’ of the organization. The beliefs of an individual would be based on their cultural, educational, family and ethnic background. The behavior is based on the values and the culture is based on the employee’s behavior.
Global organizations in the future would be more flat, less-hierarchical and power neutral, with lots more of first level management handling employees based on geography and markets, and lots more matrix managers handling the projects. Both these types of management would have to work together in an ‘electronically-social’ environment and work towards a common aligned purpose, made effective by top leadership through a set of values that would be the framework of the entire organization. One has to ensure they stay true to these values during all times, good or bad.
When you start an entrepreneurial venture, the sets of beliefs and principles of the founders becomes the undocumented set of values for the organization. Yes, their personal values become the one that the organization practices. And as the company grows, the managers and employees imbibe the same set of values and this becomes their path of choice to productivity and profitability. As the company becomes a mid-sized one, it is best to document the set of values and limit them to 5 or 6 and the organizational culture would be a reflection of these values.
If there are mergers or acquisitions happening, it is best for the top leadership to sit down quickly as part of the integration process and chalk out the combined top 5 or 6 values for the combined organization. It is also a good practice for having a survey done internally with all the employees to understand what they feel the organization stands for and then summarize the top 5 or 6 values – the benefit here is the values came from grounds up and since all employees participated in the process, the motivation level of adopting it is quite high. Some companies go this exercise every 5 years or so, and may change one of the values in the process based on the feedback received, but the core values do not change with time. It is a good practice to have the values written at the back of the identification badges of the employees so that they get reinforced daily. The most common values you would see across all organizations would be integrity, quality, something to do with community and customer satisfaction to name a few.
Having got the values worked out, it is important that all the policies, strategies and performance measures reflect them. The tactical part and the approach of doing things may change, but not the strategy that is based on the values. There are two parts to any performance appraisal system – “What” objective was achieved and “How” it was achieved. The values address the “How” part and the performance should be evaluated based on the values exhibited while achieving the desired objective. Values essentially connect the organizational goals to the employee’s achievements, thus becoming a motivational tool.
Going back to my previous statement that the future organizations would be less hierarchical and more flat, the values help the employees manage themselves without much of a need of active supervision and they begin to trust each other as they work across boundaries to achieve common organization goals. They feel more empowered because they believe that they impact the organizational positively at all times, they believe the system they operate in encourages excellence and they have better work-life balance because their beliefs are the basis of the values of the company. No one can ask for a better win-win situation than this.
The author, Rajagopalan V, is a business and technology consultant based out of Bengaluru, India and is a foot-soldier for value based leadership and conducts management workshops in Asia in helping organizations come out with their own set of values.