Organizational Values: Live Them and They — the Talent — Will Come

“For us this lawsuit has always been about something much more important than patents or money. It’s about values. We value originality and innovation and pour our lives into making the best products on Earth. And we do this to delight our customers, not for competitors to flagrantly copy.”

This was part of the missive that Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, sent his employees after the big jury verdict that Apple won against Samsung.

As I read through this statement, a big smile came to my face. It’s more important than patents or money — it’s about values. And if you ever wondered why Apple is valued at more than any other company, re-read that line.

Values = Culture

My beaming smile came about because I had just heard a CEO talk about values in a way that I had not heard before. To compare patents and money vs. values, and have values proclaimed as the winner, is a victory for Apple employees, vendors, and customers.

What a way to put the stake in the ground. No values statement was every created that would surpass those three words (It’s about values) from Tim Cook.

So many times, organizations get caught up in the never-ending chase for profits, so much so that everything and everyone else has to stand in line. All too often, that “line” is composed of overworked, unengaged workers looking to get out.

Values guide your organization’s thinking and actions. The saying is that “actions speak louder than words,” but in this case the words were spoken at a decibel level that drowned out actions and made a real impact.

That’s not always how it happens, of course. We have all witnessed how organizations state a set of values but then operate under another set as if they had amnesia.

Live it and they will come

Values are like a beacon in the night. No chest pounding or big shot pronouncements are needed because if you live them, they will come. When I say “they” I mean the talent you need to run the organization, the customers who buy your product, and the communities that you operate in.

That is the value chain that drives this success thing. There is no big mystery to it. The problem is that you have to live it — and so many companies fall short.

While they may be abstract, values are the compass that should guide the organization’s thinking and actions. They are the foundation on which a company is built. They should not just be a group of words that sound great; they have to permeate every part of the organization. This is the key point on the differentiation map because it tells the world that, yes, you are different in how you view the world and your place in it.

How do we begin to find it?

Values are revealed by your actions and thinking. How do we set priorities? As leaders. you are the lightning rod of the organization because your actions speak louder than any statement that you could ever write.

How do you spend your time, how do you communicate within the organization, and how do you go about your responsibilities and tasks? Would your employees feel comfortable walking up to you and having a conversation? If you can’t respond favorably to these questions, there is a disconnect.

Your values should cascade down the organizational food chain. We all get caught up in the senior leadership mystique and will gladly place any blame at their office door.

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But I want to let you all know a little secret: We all must live it, and not just point to the top floor of the organization. While we all hope that values would cascade down like a waterfall from the top, create your own and you become the starting point.

HR as the navigator

If you are in HR, you should always have your antenna up and making sure that you and your organization are “on” message. Why HR? Well, last time I checked, HR’s expertise is in people. You should have access to senior leadership and hold their feet to the fire the same as you hold your team’s feet to the fire for living, eating, and breathing the values of your organization.

If this sounds a little hokey, just look at any engagement survey and it sticks out like a black eye. Every one of us should be on the forefront meeting this enemy of personal lives, corporate debauchery, and careers gone bad.

If you feel the opposite and boredom has set in, remember that boredom is the tell-tale indicator that your values have a slow leak that will drain you and your organization dry. If you feel this way in your organization, it may be time for you to seek the next adventure.

Ron Thomas

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.