How to Make Values Live in Your Organization

Begin Your Values Alignment Process

altrendo images/Altrendo/Getty Images

Values exist in every workplace. Your organization’s culture is partially the outward demonstration of the values currently existing in your workplace. The question you need to ask is whether these existing values are creating the workplace you desire.

Do these values promote a culture of extraordinary customer care by happy, motivated, productive people? If not, you will want to:

  • identify the values that currently exist in your workplace;
  • determine if these are the right values for your workplace; and
  • change the actions and behaviors of which the values are demonstrated, if necessary.

In a prior article, I discussed what values are, why you want to identify values, and where values fit within your workplaces. This article moves the process of identifying workplace values to the next step.

Values Development Process

My focus, in this article, is on how to develop and articulate shared workplace values. While the focus is on values identification and alignment, you can use this process to develop any product or course of action that needs widespread support, enrollment in, and ownership from your staff.

I have used it successfully to help organizations develop mission statements, visions for their future, relationship guidelines and norms, prioritized action plans, and departmental goals.

Steps in a Values Identification Process

To identify organization values, bring together your executive group to:

  • learn about and discuss the power of shared values;
  • obtain consensus that these leaders are committed to creating a value-based workplace;
  • define the role of the executives in leading this process; and
  • provide written material the executives can share with their reporting staff.

In one of my client organizations, that recently completed this process, the Team Culture and Training Team, a cross-functional group of employees from every level of the organization, asked the executive group to initiate and lead this process.

Where possible, acting on a desire for change that is percolating from all corners of an organization, is a powerful assurance of success.

Design and schedule a series of values alignment sessions in which all members of the organization will participate. Schedule each member of the organization to attend a three-four hour session. (If your group is small, it is most effective for all members to meet in one session together.)

These sessions are most effective when led by a trained facilitator. This allows each member of your organization to fully participate in the process. Alternatively, train internal facilitators who lead one session, and participate in another.

Prior to the values identification and alignment sessions, each leader must do the following.

  • Share any written materials as well as the spirit and context of the executives’ values discussion with every individual in your reporting group.
  • Promote the rationale for, the need for, and the desired organizational impact of the process.
  • Make certain your reporting staff members understand the importance of their participation in the process.
  • Assure that every member of your reporting group is signed up for and attends a session.
  • Answer questions and provide feedback about any staff concerns to the rest of the executive or cross-functional group leading the process.

    Values Identification Workshop Overview
    The facilitator begins the sessions with a brief overview of the rationale and process have already been communicated by organization leaders. Key concepts include the following.

    • Each person brings his or her own set of values to the workplace.
    • Sharing similar or agreed upon values at work helps clarify:
      --expected behavior and actions to each other and customers,
      --how decisions are made, and
      --exactly what is important in the organization.

    Steps in Workplace Values Identification

    During the workplace values identification session, participants begin by identifying their own individual values. These are the five to ten most important values they hold as individuals and bring to the workplace every day. It is the melding of all of the values of the members of your workforce that creates your current work environment.

    I have found this process most effective when participants work from the list of possible values I provided in my prior article: Build an Organization Based on Values. People voluntarily post the values that each person has identified as their most important. Then, everyone in the session walks around to look at the various lists.

    This is a learning opportunity and can provide great insight into the beliefs and needs of coworkers. You can ask people to verbally talk about their list of values with another individual in a mutual sharing.

    Participants then work with a small group of people from across the organization to identify which of their personal values are the most important for creating the environment the group wants to “live in” at work. Participants in the small groups then prioritize these identified values into a list of five-six they most want to see expressed at work.

    When the small groups have completed their task, they share their prioritized lists with all session participants. Generally, some of the values appear on each small group list.

    In a larger organization, these prioritized lists are tallied across all sessions for frequency and meaning. In a small organization, in which everyone is participating simultaneously, prioritize and reach agreement on the most important values.

    Value Statements

    During this session, or in an additional session, participants discuss how and whether these values are currently operational in your workplace.

    People then define each value by describing what they will see in behaviors and actions when the value is truly incorporated into the organization belief system and culture. The more graphic you can make these statements, the better for producing shared meaning. Several examples of these value statements follow.

    Integrity: We maintain credibility by making certain our actions always match our words.

    Respect: We respect each patient's right to be involved, to the greatest extent possible or desired, in making informed decisions about his or her health and plan of care.

    Accountability: We accept personal responsibility to efficiently use organization resources, improve our systems, and help others improve their effectiveness.

    Now that you know how to identify workplace values and value statements read about how to finalize your values identification process.

    Follow-up Process for Workplace Values Identification

    Using the work and insights from each values identification session, volunteers from each session meet to:

    • reach consensus on the values;
    • develop value statements for each of the prioritized values; and
    • share the value statements with all staff for feedback and refinement.

    Staff will discuss the draft value statements during organization-wide meetings, where possible. The total group adopts the values by voting when the organization believes the value statements are complete.

    The Leaders' Role Following the Workplace Values Process

    Following the values identification and alignment sessions and agreement on the values, leaders, with staff, will:

    • communicate and discuss the mission and organizational values frequently with staff members;
    • establish organizational goals that are grounded in the identified values;
    • model personal work behaviors, decision making, contribution, and interpersonal interaction that reflect the values;
    • translate the values into expectations, priorities, and behaviors with colleagues, reporting staff, and self;
    • link participation in the adoption of the values and the behaviors that result, to regular performance feedback and the performance development process;
    • reward and recognize staff members whose actions and accomplishments reflect the values in action within the organization;
    • hire and promote individuals whose outlook and actions are congruent with these values; and
    • meet periodically to talk about how the group is doing via living the identified values.

    Make This Workplace Values Process Not Just Another Exercise

    In an article entitled the Value of Values Clarification – Just Stop That Navel Gazing, Robert Bacal, a Canadian writer, and consultant, offers these cautions.

    • "Don’t oversell the process.
    • Always anchor, or relate the values expressed to real world problems.
    • Encourage people to identify examples where there is a gap between values, or beliefs, and behavior.
    • Remember that you are not going to alter a person's values and beliefs by talking about them. Values clarification exercises are, at best, an opportunity to share them, not change them."

    I agree. If you want your investment in this workplace values identification and alignment process to make a difference in your organization, the leadership, and individual follow-up is critical.

    The organization must commit to change and enhance work behaviors, actions, and interactions. Reward and recognition systems and performance management systems must support and reward new behaviors. Consequences must exist for behaviors that undermine the values agreed upon.

    If you can't make this commitment, don’t even start the process. You’ll just create a group of cynical, unhappy people who feel misled and betrayed. They’ll be much less likely to jump on board for your next organizational initiative. And you know what? They’ll be right.