Company Values: They’re No Good Unless They’re Visible in Your Daily Work

© laurent hamels -
© laurent hamels -

I think it’s a fairly safe bet to say most companies today have defined set of core values – behaviors and ideals the executive team has invested a good deal of time and effort in defining as the “how” of employee efforts as they work to complete the “what” (results/deliverables).

There is a very great difference, however, in having values, knowing the values and actually living the values in your daily work.

Having Values

What do I mean by having the values? I’m sure many of have worked in (or are currently working in) organizations that require you to carry the company values around as part of your building access badge. Or perhaps you received the values in the employee handbook when you first started with the company.

And there’s this example from an article on the 5 worst employee engagement strategies ever.

Employee engagement and [recognition] programs are designed to induce behaviors in employees that will help you grow the business. Running alongside this, you have ‘values’ – a set of shared beliefs that you wish to instill throughout the organization. They are not one and the same thing.

However, at Kohl’s, many years ago, gratitude was shown by rewarding employees with rubber bracelets. There would be four bracelets in total – your aim was to achieve a full set, each one representing one of the company’s values. It was viewed by many as cheap, and nobody wore them. Kohl’s simply wasted their money by having the rubber bands made in the first place, and created a feeling within the workforce that they were cheap.

Not only were employees somewhat insulted by the gesture, since they didn’t even wear the bracelets it’s unlikely they could even be said to “have” the values.

Knowing the Values

Knowing the values, but not living them, is no better. An example of this comes to us from the Chief Happiness Officer blog, in which author Alexander Kjerulf shared this quote from a recent conference he attended:

“You know a corporate values program is doomed to fail when they start printing mouse mats with the values.”
  – Henrik Burkal, CEO of REMA1000 Denmark

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Sure, you can require employees to recite the values to you when they see you in the hall. But reciting them doesn’t mean the individual knows what each of those values looks like in his or her own daily work. Think about a common company value of “integrity.” A worthy value, indeed, but very abstract. This needs to be made real for employees.

Living the Values

One client of ours helps to make this abstract value real for their employees by specifically recognizing and praising them for doing things they might have been punished for in the past.

For example: “Steve, thank you for reporting the broken equipment in a timely way. This allowed us to get it repaired and back on-line quickly. You showed great integrity by taking responsibility for the break, communicating to the team how you think such breakage can be avoided in the future, and enabling us all to get back up and running.”

If you want your employees to live your values every day, then make them real. Recognize and reward them – and let them recognize and reward each other – whenever the values are being demonstrated through the work.

Do your employees have your values, know your values, or truly live your values? Do you?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is senior vice president of client strategy and consulting at Workhuman, where he leads the company’s consulting and analytics divisions. His writing is regularly featured across major HR publications, including HR Magazine, Human Resource Executive, HR Zone, and Workspan.