Great companies have certain set of fundamental core values that usually dictates their DNA and Way of Working (WoW). Usually these values get set over time and are usually set for a long horizon, and maybe there is one value that gets changed every once in a while as they go through some change, either internally through some acquisitions or mergers or through external environmental variables like a globalization of the company or when they have to adhere to a changed corporate law or something. In any case, having a set of Core values for a company is essential for a competitive advantage and also to showcase their identity to the world. Some of the common values that you usually see in many organizations are diversity, integrity, safety, excellence, fairness and of late, community which talks about a greener planet and corporate social responsibility. So, how do these values get set? When people talk about culture of the company, what does it actually mean?
A process in which this gets defined is usually from an attitude that reveals itself as some consistent behavior pattern which morphs itself to a set of values which with some commitment gets to be the culture of the company.
A good way to start is when the organization is transforming itself from a startup phase to some growth phase. The founders and the top management would certainly have some opinions that they have cultivated over time in their professional and personal front and this may be a starting point as to how the organization gets weaved. These opinions are just bucketized as ‘attitude‘ which reveals itself as a behavior from the person. I want to emphasize that the connotation of attitude here is everything positive that spreads within the organization and this gives the head start of what is to come for the organization as they grow.
Once these behaviours, which are things that you and I do on an everyday basis, gets to be more consistent and seems to reveal a pattern within the organization, these can be the core values that your organizations can start off with. Values are the interesting qualities that are important to the organization that all stakeholders breathe day-in day-out.
Many a times, just because the organizations needs to have a set of values , it gets published from the top and they are set to be followed as a general guideline across the organization. This is totally wrong, you have known companies like Enron and Lehman Brothers for all the wrong reasons, and I am sure they would have had some credible set of values published within which obviously nobody followed. The point to emphasize here is these set of values has to be constantly re-iterated within the organizations and they have to be something everyone can live by, in both their professional and personal lives.
Values must not be confused with (technical) competencies the organization has and hope to acquire which is literally your market place advantage. Do not try to fit in values and have the organization stick by it as this would be a disaster waiting to happen. The best way to do this if to have a value workshop every couple of years from a good subset of your best employees and have them evolve the values to mean what one lives by at that point. Or one can take a survey across the corporation. It is reasonable to change a value here and there every 3-4 years to ensure you are consistent with the behavior seen but definitely not a good idea to change all the values every few years as this destroys the complete DNA of the company. Whenever there is an acquisition or a merger or a change event, it is good to have a relook at the values to get consistency across the larger corporation.
Good companies have Values inscribed in your badge behind your photo ID so that you can always refer to them to reinforce your behavior. Values are the long term identity of the organization, and as I said, one must be able to take it home and live by the same set of values in one’s personal life as well. During the orientation of new employees and during their integration, it is critical that one emphasizes these values over and over again so that it gets instilled in every employee. This would lead to a general commitment to behave in a particular desired way. Commitment is sort of a guarantee to do something in a desired way and this is great for an organization.
Once you have the commitment, a good company can actually map it back to the performance appraisal process which must consist of two parts: the What and How, with equal weightage. The ‘What’ defines the results orientation of an employee and maps against the performance objectives achieved. The ‘How’ should translate back to the Values of the company to be consistent with the behavior that one wants to see within the organization. For Example, if an individual achieves excellent results and exceeds all his objectives, but at the cost of disrupting the team when ‘team work’ is one of the values of the organization, his performance assessment must need improvement and not be graded as successful.
Now we have identified a process where an attitude showcases behavior which sets a value that gets the commitment from all. If you are this stage, I would say we have a culture identified for an organization which is just a set of attitudes and beliefs or way of working that is acceptable within it. Yes, I said Attitudes, which means which can be a cycle in itself. Your attitudes initially would have originated from the set of values you grew up with, the cultures or geography you were brought up in, and of course, the best of practices you have seen around which you have slowly adopted as something that you want to identify yourself with.
One point that I want to make before I wrap up, for which I have got some mixed reaction, is ‘customer’ can never be stated as a value. I have seen customer as a value in almost all companies now, be it customer delight or customer satisfaction or anything, but I would say NO organization can be in business if they do not have any customers. This would rather be more a metric to be measured. I would rather state a value that would be an expectation of a customer like excellence and integrity, which may be harder to measure but something that reveals as a behavior. A value has to be applicable for both internal (employees, management) and external (customers, vendors) stakeholders.