Eroding values, corroding business

Friday, 25 February 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Niroshan Silva

Energy and direction are the primary attributes of personality. Energy comes from willpower and effort. Direction comes from ideas. Ideas inspire. They possess the power to release energy and channel it in a creative direction.

There are several types of ideas that give direction to a company and constitute the core of its personality. These ideas include the beliefs, values, mission, goals, objectives, and attitudes that influence its thoughts, guide its decisions, mold its policies, and determine the course of its actions.

Today as we HR professionals toil to instill good governance through practices and competencies, many have left the ‘values’ of the business unattended. Many organisations require a periodic training session of its values as they feel it’s important.

Yet, only a few entities realise that the very core of their sprit is held within the value system of the organisation. For others it’s a pictorial representation on the wall. The short article would endeavour to build an appreciation to corporate values, hence trust more organisations would take time in developing ways of how its people can live the values.

There is an old proverb that says, “Thought is the soul of an act”. Ideas determine decisions; decisions dictate actions. There are virtually hundreds of ideas that influence the behaviour of a corporation. The impact of ideas depends on their inherent validity, the extent to which the management is committed to them, and the level at which they are implemented.

A real test of an individual’s or a company’s commitment to an idea is the way it behaves during a crisis. The test books of the world would quote Johnson and Johnson or more recently Toyota of its values and excellence. Yet, in reality today all entities are going through a crisis one way or another.

The crisis of attracting and retaining talent, macro economic downturn, competitive productivity elsewhere in the world, and the like are some of the predicaments businesses call daily occurrences. All these are either connected to values or erode them as a result.

For example an organisation that values its creativity installing every conceivable method of curtailing the innovation through a system driven approval procedure, or setting KPIs that are so individualistic that it breaks working relationships does not make the organisation effective.

If we neglect to correct our values of the business as well as at home – we would have far reaching implications as a result. The steps below are a few of the many ideas that one can start on to make a meaningful journey. The common steps would be enriched by circumstance e.g. Family owned business or a company working offshore or an NGO and the like.

Step one – Find the origin and its pure meaning

If one were to examine the values of your business – where did the values come from? The ethos of what the forefounders lived for? From a consultant that had given a menu card to pick 8 values out of the 15 values that best describe you? Or did they come from within the practices of the organisation?

This is important as once we try to demonstrate or live the values of the business one might come across many difficulties. The interpretation of the values based on rhetoric (language descriptors) or the actions that represent the feelings of the people?  Once we find the core – we need to clarify and test its value within the work practices and make the necessary changes.

For example there is little practical use of having a Value that says “Entrepreneurship’ if every decision is made by a system or person sitting at the parent company 10,000 km away.  The employees are not empowered to change anything – they are representing humanity behind a desk.

Because the parent company values include entrepreneurship – so must the other offices around the world. The trainers interpret this as “be an entrepreneur in your own way within the small space you have”. Can you blame the employees having the last laugh? Find the core and make it meaningful.

Step two – Validate the values

Values dictate the culture of the business and vice versa depending on the angle of argument. If the essence of the practices and processes are aligned to the values of the business, then the employees would respect these values.

Some would call this ‘walking the talk’. While bits and pieces are covered within the curriculum of leadership, corporate governance and the like; little emphasis is placed on what to do about it or its links to the existing values within the organisation. ‘Values must be lived from the top’ – is a critical statement we hear all the time.

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(The writer – B.Bus (Mgt) (HRM), MBA, MAHRP, NLP Master Practitioner, SLID – is a Past President of AHRP.)

Eroding values,...

The most powerful corporate values are the ones that are preached and practiced by top management. People need to know the business is serious about the values to adhere to them. When the senior personnel don’t seem to care – then the values become a joke in the eyes of the employees.

Is a company that thrives on integrity willing and ready to sack a dishonest yet, critical member of the organisation? Some will take that stand and many wouldn’t. It’s easy to talk about values – it’s hard to live them.  Would a CEO alter the hiring criteria to hire one’s child to the company? After all he is the CEO?

Imagine a company that is ‘customer centric’ but doesn’t have a customer complaints department, a health club with a hamburger and chips outlet in its premises or a eco friendly company that talks about its carbon foot print and the business leaders run on patrol guzzlers. How is the organisation going to make these values the DNA of the business? It’s not getting the commitment of the people but the compliance of its people. If you can’t live them – don’t preach them!

Step 3 – Getting people’s involvement

Have you asked the people what values drive them? Or what values really mean a lot to them?  Is it visible and constantly reminded? There are organisations in Sri Lanka that haven’t even translated their values into Sinhala or Tamil (depending on the workforce). The people don’t even know what the values are. Yet, on the same token if you ask the people they come up with statements that resemble the values. Why? They feel it at work.

Then there are companies that train the people and have pictorial billboards about the values. Yet, the hearts of the people know that they don’t stand for many of the values stated on the board. Eg. one company had their values readjusted and formulated. Out of the many values it had – ‘Our people are our source for inspiration’ and ‘Team work’ come to mind.

On the day of the launch of the values to the employees a trusted old employee, who has been with the business for 29 years, smiled and quietly walked away after the ceremony. Once we asked him politely what he thought of the values he says “statements come and go – the CEO or the HR head would have gone for another training session somewhere. Why? The values presented weren’t ours. None of the employees were consulted about our values. If we are the source of inspiration – we should be consulted don’t you think?” This step doesn’t cost money — ask people at different levels of what values drive the business.

Step 4 – Align the existing values and to the ones the company needs to have

There may be certain values that the business needs to incorporate, that may or may not be in existence right now. Map the behaviours and actions that needed to be performed for us to demonstrate these values. ‘Safety first’ may be an important corporate value. We would need to dissect the operations, mark improvement structurally and psychologically and help people to perform in a safe environment.

Yet, when the company says safety first it can’t assume it would become a value unless all aspects of the people’s lives are taken care of. Eg. car seat belts, Mobile phone usage during driving and the like. One needs to take the values and interpret so that the people’s actions and their thinking are changed for the better.

This article is written with a lot of passion to denote how organisations have negated the values of the business. I am sure many companies would believe these statements to be true. From a consultant’s point of view – we feel sad how organisational behaviour is sometimes moving in the wrong direction and no one realises it. People in the company who have been there for some time talk about yester year and there it remains. Examine your values – and make it worthwhile for people to live.

‘Our stakeholders are important’ doesn’t mean you have to increase their salary even when the company can’t afford it. It means we scale down our Hilton party for the directors and have a common family gathering of the employees. The many companies that do live and breathe their values know how rewarding it feels. Make a commitment to live your values in your life and business. Good luck!