Whenever Im helping a client plan a major change, we always spend a considerable amount of time discussing values and principles. It doesnt matter whether its a family-owned company or a member of the Fortune 500, values are a concern.
They are a concern because management has come to realize the importance of the issue, but confusion arises over defining what constitutes a value, and which values are the most important to that client.
Values are always intangible its the behavior which you, the leader, exemplify that makes them real. In their book, The Leadership Challenge, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner point out that values provide a prism through which all behavior is ultimately viewed.
Appropriate values vary for each organization. In a highly competitive organization where low profit margins are a fact of life, cost cutting might be an important value. In another organization, experimentation and risk-taking might be necessary values. In most organizations, attention to customer service is a critical value at all levels.
While the priority of the values may vary from one organization to another, research by Charles OReilly and David Caldwell points out that three qualities are present in all effective value systems: clarity, consensus and intensity.
Clarity means that each member of the organization understands the importance of the values and how they apply to their particular jobs. For this to happen, leaders must have a very clear understanding of the value and the outcomes they expect to achieve through its application.
Consensus means leaders and their employees reach an agreement as to the importance of these. To achieve consensus, the leaders must mirror the value through their own behavior. An organization can never implement a value system if it doesnt subscribe to the same system in its business dealings. Merely articulating the desired values, without living them, will never work.
Intensity refers to the importance employees place on the value system. Good leaders, those who are in touch with their employees, will know in advance which values their employees are likely to accept and support. How they feel about the values, and what values are important to them, are easy to recognize because they will frequently be the topics of conversation even before the value system is designed. If the organization mistreats employees, customers and suppliers, you can be certain people will talk about it.
When a meaningful value system is in place, amazing things happen. Attendance improves, fewer discipline problems arise, schedules are met and quality increases. Motivating becomes easier. When employees recognize how their work relates to the organizational value system, they likely also will see their contributions as being more important.
At that juncture, the value system becomes a source of motivation. The job becomes more meaningful. The difficult and unpleasant tasks become less a source of dissatisfaction. Their jobs assume a greater significance in their minds. As Logan Pearsall Smith once wrote, The test of a calling is a love of the drudgery it necessitates.
A value system that captures what is important to all members of the group, is presented and communicated with clarity and is embraced as a priority can be a strong motivational force for any organization.