How To Make Organizational Values Come Alive

How To Make Organizational Values Come Alive

A sales manager read an article about his company’s refusal to deal with any country where “under the table” money was part of the negotiation process. He circled the article and wrote the words Right On! in the column, and mailed it to his CEO. The attached note said: “I’m proud to work in a company whose values reflect my own.”

Webster defines value as “a principle, standard or quality considered inherently worthwhile or desirable.” The root is the Latin valor, which means strength. The best values serve as a source of strength for an enterprise or an individual. And as leadership effectiveness moves from control to collaboration, the key to bonding people to the goals of the organization automatically becomes the intangibles – trusting relationships, emotional attachment, and shared values.

Strong, shared values turn an organization into a kind of hologram, in which every part contains enough information in condensed form to describe the whole. An observer can see the entire organization’s culture and ways of doing business by watching one individual -- whether a production-floor employee, the receptionist at the front desk, or a senior manager. There is a consistency and predictability to their behavior that customers, suppliers, partners, and other employees can count on.

Achieving this kind of integration takes much more than the crafting of a values statement. That may be where leaders start -- but it is only a beginning. Values must be integrated into processes, policies, and organizational behavior before they become tangible – a shared understanding of “how we do things around here.” And that takes an enormous amount of time, focus and effort. It also takes a focused leadership strategy.

Here are six tips to consider when creating such a strategy:

1) Walk Before you Talk

When a company wants to highlight any core value – we’ll use collaboration as an example – I recommend holding back all official communication until members of the executive team fully understand how their behavior is currently perceived and how they might have to change in order to model the candor and inclusion they want from others, until there is a system developed (or at least in the works) for teaching collaborative skills to employees, until there is a process in place for training managers as collaborative leaders, and until there is an appropriate shift from individual to team accomplishments in reward and recognition programs.

2) Tie Values to Business Goals

All core values need to be connected to strategic objectives. With the value of diversity, for instance, leaders need to present the business case – explaining why diversity is not only the right thing to do, but also why it’s crucial to the organization’s success. Diversity should be positioned as a positive force for bringing in new ideas, fresh perspectives, better customer service (especially as the customer base also becomes more diverse) and more effective problem-solving potential.

3) Paint a Picture of Values in Action

People need to see how values actually operate in their day-to-day experience. If the organizational value is work-life balance, leaders need to identify specific behaviors that demonstrate this kind of balance. Better still, they need to find organizational examples where the company’s objectives are well served by a flexible work arrangement - and tell those real-life workplace stories.

4) Develop the Corporate Mechanisms that Bring Values into Reality

3M allows scientists to spend 15 percent of their time working on whatever interests them, requires divisions to generate 30 percent of their revenues from new products introduced within the past four years, has an active internal venture capital fund, and grants prestigious awards for innovations. I don’t know if 3M has a formal “values statement,” but I know what they value.

5) Create Linkage

Ultimately, the leader’s role is to create linkage between the organization and its employees. And this goes beyond making sure that everyone knows where the company is headed, what’s expected of them and how their contributions fit into the overall strategy – although all of those concepts are vitally important. True linkage, the kind that bonds committed employees to the success of the organization, comes when there is a deep connection between the values of the company and those of the work force. As a leader, the most effective way of developing this powerful connection is to encourage employees to clarify their own personal values and to see how they fit within the values of the organization.

6) Track Your “Values Alignment” 

Leaders who utilize a “Say/Do” survey to periodically monitor employee perception can make sure that the organization stays on track. Such an inquiry identifies values that have been integrated into organizational behavior – and shows where gaps still exist. Typical survey questions are: “This is what our values state. What actions do you see us taking that are in alignment with our values? What behaviors are out of alignment?”

The right strategy has the power to turn your organization into a hologram – to make its values come alive!

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  • Leighanne Edminson

    Insightful read, thanks for sharing.

  • Garry Williamson

    Truly a must read

  • Kelly Louise

    Thought provoking with interesting advices

  • Ivanka Meuleman

    Nail on the head.

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Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.

Leadership Expert

Carol is an international keynote speaker at conferences, business organizations, government agencies, and universities. She addresses a variety of leadership issues, but specializes in helping leaders build their impact and influence skills for fostering collaboration, building trust, and projecting that illusive quality called "leadership presence." She is the author of "STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence." and the creator of LinkedIn Learning's video course, "Body Language for Leaders." Carol completed her doctorate in the United States. She can be reached at

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