Pathways and Pitfalls to Living Organizational Values
By: Jim Clemmer
Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is http://www.clemmer.net/
"You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips."
— Oliver Goldsmith, 18th Century English writer
Weave references to values in all the speeches, presentations, and discussions.
- Revisit and revise your values every few years to keep them alive and relevant.
They can too easily become stale, stifling, or just ignored. In The Achieve
Group’s (my first training and consulting company) early years, we wrote
a three page statement of Achieve's core values that were later named ACT
— Attention to Service, Commitment to Quality, and Trust through Value.
The values were used to hire dozens of Achievers in the following few years.
As we went through a major change and redefinition of our business, everyone
in the company participated in a series of "getting into the ACT"
discussions that spanned almost a year’s worth of our quarterly meetings.
Ultimately the three ACT values remained, but each line of the accompanying
explanation was edited and revised. The document went from three pages
The most significant outcome was not the final two pages of painfully debated
words. The biggest benefit came from the participation of every Achiever
in internalizing the revised values. They provided a stable and reassuring
beacon for navigating the stormy seas of major change and adverse financial
conditions we were going through at the time.
- Use a series of fine "values fit screens" once new job candidates
have made it through the technical qualifications and work experience screens.
If our values say anything about empowerment, teamwork, participation,
or involvement, we need to get those people who will be the teammates of
the new candidate actively involved in the hiring and selection process.
- If we're not using our values as key criteria in performance appraisal/management
and especially promotions, they're just bumper stickers. For example, far
too many managers talk eloquently about teamwork or partnerships, customers,
and innovation. Then they promote the meanest, toughest Technomanagers
(bureaucratic, technically focused managers) who rarely see customers,
are lone wolves, and have left a bunch of dead bodies in their wake. "But",
argue some senior managers, "they get the job done". Fair enough.
So they should stop being hypocritical. They need to declare "the
bottom line" or "getting the job done at any cost" or "making
your numbers" as the core values. Because that's really what they
are. Who gets promoted for what kind of behavior is the single clearest
indication of an organization's true values.
- What gets measured gets managed. If we are not measuring and providing
feedback to everyone on each of our core values, we’re not living them.
For example, if innovation is a value, it needs to be measured.
- If we have a set of values and we want to assess how well we're living
them, here are a few ways to do that:
- Look at key organization systems, processes, and structure. Whom do they
serve? Do they help or hinder people trying to live your values?
- Ask a random group of customers, external partners, and internal people
to jot down the three things that your organization or team seems to care
- Have team members give regular, anonymous ratings on how well the leaders
are living the values.
- Ask people what gets somebody fired or promoted.
- Look at a recent (or current) crisis. What values were really tested?
- What's on your team meeting agendas? How is planning, directing, and controlling
(management) time balanced with caring for the cultural context and values?
- What are people rewarded and recognized for?
- Get out and get active with customers, external partners, and people in
your organization. We loudly signal our values through visible and active
leadership. "Our people more attention pay, to what we do that what
- Deeply imbed values in all training and organization improvement efforts.
- If we're trying to bring about a big values shift, we need to look for
dramatic, visible ways to demonstrate the new values.
- Post your values on the wall at all team meetings. Begin the meeting with
everyone reflecting on how he or she has lived the values personally. Or
they might give recognition to someone else on the team for a strong example
of signaling the values. End the meeting with a team assessment of whether
your values were alive and actively used in the meeting.
We lead people and manage things. Core values are critical to effectively
leading people. Peter Drucker is on the mark when he says, "making
the right people decisions is the ultimate means of controlling an organization.
. . your people decisions are your key decisions, because they tell your
organization what you value."