5 Mistakes Organizations Make When Implementing Values In The Workplace
The benefits of having clearly defined your company values are clear, I won’t go through them in detail. A simple Google search will bring up a long list of articles, research, and case studies that elaborate on them.
Many modern organizations are aware of this and even the most basic have a list of values that they can point their employees at. As with any initiative, there’s a difference between doing it, and doing it well. Painting your company’s values on the office wall is only the beginning. In this post, I’ll be detailing some common mistakes with implementing values and how to improve them.
1. Push vs. Pull Values
Many organizations push their values onto their employees.
Every individual has their own set of personal values, you should instead focus on creating an environment where people who have those values WANT to come and work. It’s not about getting people to do more of X, it should instead be about enabling people who WANT to do X to be able to do it more easily.
Remember: It’s hard to change a person’s values, trying to Push values on them will only lead to alienating your employees and will create a sense of artificialness in your values.
Let’s look at some examples of initiatives that Push vs. Pull with some popular company values:
Push: Creating a Slack channel to celebrate instances of integrity | Annual awards to celebrate the employee that best manifested Integrity in the workplace.
Pull: Leading by example — following through on promises | Turning away customers that lack integrity — refusing to work with a shady client despite being offered a large sum of money | Freedom to work policies — Ability to work remotely, open vacation policies etc. Highlight that you are results/outcome-driven and trust your employees to act with integrity.
Comment: This is a place where people who have integrity work, this organization has integrity. If you have integrity, we trust that you can make decisions for us with the highest standard in mind.
Push: Screening for boldness/courage in the interview process — excluding candidates that seem meek or timid, asking candidates about a previous instance where they demonstrated boldness/courage.
Pull: Creating an environment where it’s OK to be bold — giving everyone airtime to allow their voices to be heard in a way that’s comfortable for them (anonymous if necessary), asking employees for suggestions and ideas on projects instead of waiting for them to step up and vocalize.
Comment: It’s not that you NEED to be bold/courageous, it’s that if you ARE bold, you’ll enjoy our company because we welcome boldness. We won’t dismiss or chastise you for bold suggestions, instead, we welcome ideas and have candid discussions on possibilities.
Entrepreneurial/Ship it fast
Push: Creating an innovation department | Running internal hackathons.
Pull: Mimicking Google’s 80/20 policy where employees spend 80% of their time on company projects and are allowed to spend 20% of their time on their own initiatives | Supporting co-workers in building their personal brand and allowing employees to work on side ventures (as long as they aren’t a direct conflict of interest).
Comment: It’s not about forcing employees to be more entrepreneurial. Instead, it’s about making your company a place where entrepreneurial people want to come and work.
It should come as no surprise that high turnover occurs during events where changes from up above require adopting new/different values. These turnover events aren’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s much harder to force a new set of values onto existing employees than it is to find new employees who embody and thrive in those values.
2. Not having a clear Mission & Vision.
Values alone are not sufficient. Sounds obvious, but we should first realize that Values are dynamic. An individual’s core values can change over time, and so will an organization’s.
Your company’s values will evolve as you add new people to the organization and as you grow the business to a different stage where there are new needs and priorities.
Defining a clear north-star helps keep your organization moving in the right direction and rallies the right people to join your cause.
Not sure about the difference between Mission vs. Vision? This article explains it in detail with 25 different examples.
How do you define your organization’s Mission/Vision? That’s a much more challenging topic that requires a good amount of personal and collective introspection. Some key tips:
- Direction usually comes from above. The CEO/founder needs to be a visionary and have a clear conviction of where to take the company.
- This applies to Holacratic or Flat organizations as well. You have to remember, these organizations don’t simply materialize with a full team. It usually begins with a small collective of individuals who consciously decide to adopt this organizational structure, and despite the intention to be completely democratic, there is typically a leader in these early hours that will define the core purpose of the group.
- As such, it usually stems from an individual. That said, once you rally people around a cause, said cause is subject to evolve as well (though it’s very rare to completely deviate from the original purpose).
Once you have a clear mission/vision, you can select for values that align and best support your cause at each lifecycle of your business.
3. Having too many Values.
It doesn’t help to have a list of 10 company values.
“You company’s values are what you are focusing on at the moment”
Teresa Duke, former Head of Recruitment @ Unbounce
Companies often come up with a comprehensive list of multiple values. This happens because:
- Everything seems important, you don’t want to exclude anything because you fear that by doing so, you encourage behaviours that are counter to that value.
- We don’t distinguish between table stakes and core values.
- Table stakes: The bare minimum. Depending on your organization, certain values should be implicit requirements that you are aware of, but need to overemphasize — i.e. Trust, Quality etc.
- Core values: Unique and distinguishing values that define the key focus of your organization and what you want to prioritize.
- We forget that values change over time, and try to capture everything we want to embody — now and in the future.
Instead, companies should identify their top-3 values for a given year, and design their organization to bring the best out of those values.
4. Not integrating Values into every aspect of the business.
Values don’t only define company culture, values should be woven into every aspect of your HR & business strategy.
Most companies recruit for skills and filter for values. This is flawed, you’ll often find candidates justifying their values — because they want to get the job! It’s much harder to filter for values out the back end.
Instead, build a strong employee brand around your values. Attract people who resonate with your mission, vision, and values. Filter for skills.
If you care about customer experience, you should care more about employee experience.
Who should be given the most attention in your organization?
In that exact order.
If you don’t treat your employees right, don’t expect them to treat your customers right. Ensure that values are consistent throughout the employee experience, that you’re not only touting your values but actually living them out. Don’t just speak about values without creating an environment that supports those values, nobody wants to work in an artificial environment like that and you’ll quickly lose these employees even if you were successful in attracting talent with the right value alignment.
People don’t just find out about your company through your website. They can also learn about what it’s really like to work with you through existing and former employees.
Existing employees are more inclined to say what you tell them to say but former employees tend to be far more candid with the truth. Ensure that you don’t stop being who you say you are and start treating people differently once they’ve left.
5. Wrongly defining Value-Fit
Most companies hire for “fit” the wrong way and end up building a mono-culture of groupthink. Fit includes:
Skill fit — do they have what it takes to get the job done?
- Mission fit — do they believe in the same mission/vision?
- Mindset fit — do they share the same attitudes you look for in an ideal employee? e.g. self-initiating, lifelong learner etc.
- Work Ethic fit — do they have a shared view of work/life balance?
- Team fit — would they get along with fellow co-workers?
When I speak about recruiting and screening for fit, I do not mean that you should hire people who look and sound exactly like you.
When building a team, there is a right formula for diversity (by diversity here, I’m not referencing diversity & inclusion a.k.a. D&I). A good team should have:
Minimum diversity of power
You don’t want someone who feels inferior to everyone else in the team, nor do you want someone who bosses people around. Hence minimum here.
Medium diversity in opinion
You don’t want everyone to agree on everything, nor do you want everyone to disagree on everything. This is where value-fit is key.
By ensuring that you recruit for value-fit, you bring people who have different ideas but still believe in the same common cause.
They may have different approaches, but will still share the same underlying values that help the company make value-aligned decisions.
Maximum diversity in experience/skills
The keyword here is cognitive diversity, you want people who can do different things, bring different perspectives, and can both learn from and teach others. If done right, this here is the key to achieving good D&I metrics. Skip to the “Ray of Hope” section of this blog post for more details.
What does doing it wrong look like?
Focusing on the wrong kind of fit:
- Hiring people just for charisma.
- Hiring people who share the same interest/hobbies as you.
- Hiring people who share your opinion/agree with you.