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Why aligning company culture and values is so difficult: Steps to get your values back on track

According to Karen Meager and John McLachlan, the co-founders of Monkey Puzzle Training, most organisations like to talk about their values, with designated sections on the company site that eagerly preach about the company ethos. Company leaders are also the first to tell prospective clients and new employees about their ‘kindness culture’ and ‘environmental awareness’ – but how much of this actually aligns with the company’s actions? Do you feel that your company fails to live up to its values? It is extremely easy to write your values down on a piece of paper, but in reality, they can be hard to implement and maintain, so companies are required to consistently review and revisit the extent to which these are actioned.

 

As training, coaching and development experts, we regularly come across businesses that ask us to help them implement their values. The issue that we encounter time and time again is the aspirational nature of these values; they represent a far away ambition rather than a tangible reflection of the company culture. It is not enough to say ‘people are our greatest asset’ – this has to be reflected in the way the company runs day to day, which can be precarious and difficult for company leaders.

 

To add to these complexities, these values have to be implemented at all levels of the company, from the CEO, to the managers, to the employees themselves and this is where things get complicated. Even if people like the values, it does not mean they will ‘do’ them. Cognitive bias tells us that human beings will often have greater expectations of other people than themselves. Therefore, people will believe it’s the company’s responsibility to ‘do’ the values and not make the link to their own individual behaviour, leading to significant values gaps across the organisation.

If you are a leader or HR professional struggling with this right now, take heart: you are not alone. Here are some top tips for getting your values back on track

  1. Are your leaders embodying your values?

If not, you have no chance that other people will. The company’s leaders act as a guide for the behaviour of others, so it is imperative that they are setting an example that is in line with the organisation ethos. You may want to change some people in leadership positions if you feel they are not effectively advocating the company values. You can also have them take some personal development courses in order to improve their position, or alternatively, you may decide to change your values to suit the leadership.

  1. Do your policies and processes support your values?

One of the key reasons organisations fail to uphold their values is because the company’s policies and processes do not support or embody the desired company culture. For example, if ‘Transparency’ is a value then make sure this is well defined and reflected in your processes. This could involve creating an ‘open door’ policy where employees are actively encouraged to speak openly with managers and regularly ask questions. This will enforce the transparency values, thus reducing the chance of a values gap.

 

  1. Do your training and development programmes have your values at the forefront?

Ask Coaches to reference them in coaching sessions and facilitators to raise them at away days, this way employees are consistently being reminded of the company values, making them more likely to advocate these day-to-day. Additionally, introduce these values during employee inductions to ensure that they are instilled from the moment they join the company. If people are finding these difficult to understand, then get feedback; values that are discussed openly and contributed to are more likely to stick.
Values are a great way to bring people together and define a culture. Remember that the work required to integrate them into your organisation is so much more work than defining them in the first place (and that can be hard enough)