HR Roundtable: Making Values Real

Steve was particularly excited about the October Cincinnati HR Roundtable because the topic was trying to take a look at how companies can get company values off of plaques on a wall and into the hearts of employees. To get everyone ready to discuss the topic, we started with these three starter questions:

  1. What place do values have in an organization?
  2. Why don’t we follow a company’s values?
  3. How can we allow/make values stick?

The attendees eagerly jumped into small groups to start discussing this topic. In fact, it was hard to get them to reconvene to share what they had said. However, we moved things forward and here are their great insights.

1. What place do values have in an organization?

Values define what a company should be — This is an honest response. You don’t ever see negative values posted by a company. They try to capture a guiding direction of what the company holds dear and sees as it’s identity. This is solid and should be done in all organizations.

They’re aspirational — There’s only good around this. Having positive values gives employees, customers and the public a framework to rally around. Values can be foundation blocks to build upon. They should be far reaching, sustainable and forward facing. When you have those components, they can move from aspirations to reality more easily.

They can help frame your culture — At the September HR Roundtable we discussed company culture. Values are critical in communicating what a company believes and they can be the launching point for systems, processes, policies and procedures. You can refer back to the values (just as you can with your culture) to see if what you’re implementing supports, or detracts, from your values.

2. Why don’t we follow a company’s values?

Behavior is allowed that isn’t consistent with values — This is a difficult reality in companies. You see it in the news lately as well. We’ll put up with quite a bit of poor behavior from people if they’re producers or are in roles of leadership. This is honestly inexcusable, but it’s difficult to address. We want profits more than we do values. Since all companies strive to be successful, we need to be more realistic about the behaviors that are allowed/tolerated. Poor behavior must be addressed and not overlooked.

It’s a “check the box” exercise — Another “ouch” statement that rings true. Many companies go through vision, mission and values exercises on a regular basis. There are tweaks here and there, and then everyone pats each other on the back about how edgy they are. It’s laughable. However, we are hesitant to raise our voice against this going through the motions model. We would be better off jumping up and challenging this. There’s no gain in just making this an annual review.

The values seem to be applied differently based on your level within the organization — Ugh. Yet another harsh reality. Those who sit at the top of the mountain tend to feel they have more latitude when it comes to behavior and values. This isn’t true, but it can be the practice. The higher you are in an organization, the more you look down upon those in roles below your level. This is very old school thinking and needs to be destroyed. This aspect of traditional structure is more than outdated, it’s prehistoric.

People aren’t sure what the values are — Companies like to be wordy. The more descriptive visions, missions and values are, the more prestigious it appears. Honestly, it just means someone knows how to use “businesscatchphrase.com” (not a real site, but you get what I mean). When there’s a lack of clarity in a company’s values, people don’t know how to respond or perform. Make sure that your values are succinct and clear!!

3. How can we allow/make values stick?

HR needs to be the standard of living the values — We need to be the ones who pull the values off the walls and make sure they resonate and are threaded throughout all of the functions within the company. We also need to be above reproach and model values with others. We can’t allow people to just give values hollow lip service. It needs to be the reality of our practice and culture.

Catch people doing well and expecting feedback — HR has to break the “we come to work to fix problems” mentality. There are daily challenges, but we miss the chance to praise people for accomplishments. We have to eliminate the approach that continuously looks at the gaps and instead, start filling in the work that gets done well every day. We can improve this approach by coaching and training managers how to effectively, and regularly, acknowledge their staff and give them feedback. Teach others how to encourage and don’t allow them to continue to dismantle.

Tell stories — A great comment from the attendees was “Facts tell . . . Stories sell.” This is a solid phrase!! People respond to, and remember, stories. We tend to beat people with facts and a series of do’s and don’ts. Tell stories instead to communicate company values and how they can be applied within the context of people’s work. It’s so much more effective !!

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Hire people who exemplify your values — HR disclaimer – this is a great approach as long as you make sure you’re not discriminating. Having values related questions as part of your selection process is key. Seeing how candidates respond to who you are and what you believe in should be a part of how you consider adding new folks.

Don’t vary often — You really should look at an annual review of vision, mission, and values, but be hesitant to make sweeping changes. Being consistent is something employees look for because everyone longs for stability. Values need to be deep and wide so that they stand the test of time and the fluctuations that occur in the life of an organization.

We had a great time discussing company values. I hope you plan to look at what yours are and see how they’re doing. I hope you also plan to come to future Roundtables!! The Roundtables rock when you experience them in person!!

Steve Browne

Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, is the Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosa's, Inc., a regional pizzeria restaurant chain in the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio area with 16 locations and over 1,200 team members. Steve has been an HR professional for more than 30 years in the manufacturing, consumer products, and professional services industries. He facilitates a monthly HR Roundtable in Cincinnati and runs an Internet message board for HR pros that reaches 7,800 plus people weekly. Steve joined the SHRM Board of Directors in January 2016. You can contact him at sbrowne@larosas.com, or on Twitter (@sbrownehr). You can also read more on his personal blog, Everyday People.