How To Turn Your Values Into Concrete Organizational Behaviors
Group CEO Hofstede Insights – Ensuring #theculturefactor is leveraged at executive level.
In my previous article about avoiding blind spots in your company’s culture, I ended on the note that sometimes there are unforeseen consequences that come from focusing too narrowly on certain corporate values. This article will expand on how you can make sure that once you have the correct values within sight, these values get “lived.”
In a recent change process I helped with, a client organization was working on a variety of change initiatives following my organization’s “onion logic.” One important change the organization wanted to realize is that people have the courage to speak up, irrespective of hierarchical position. Often these speak-up initiatives are linked to a corporate value such as equality.
As previously described, onion logic is built around layers of impact. If cultural changes remain a symbolism, then sure, people will see new images, but will they really change their everyday behavior? Symbolic changes are relatively easy but not as impactful. If you really want to drill down to the core of a culture, you must change the behaviors and attitudes and support all of this with symbolic importance, structures and management systems (e.g., appraisals, compensation paths, etc.).
So how does this look like in practice? Let’s say that you decide, similar to my recent client, that you want your business to have a core value of “everybody’s voice is heard.”
Nice value, but let’s make this practical. What does it actually mean, how does the behavior look like and how can you actually make sure it happens and that it shows? How can you make sure that when you conduct an organizational culture measurement you score “open” in terms of information flow?
From symbolic change to actual change.
This is where the execution part matters. Let’s stick with the core value mentioned above, “everybody’s voice is heard.” An easy way of making this happen is to provide a survey, available in a company app or on the company’s intranet. This way everybody can, in theory, share their ideas. This is of symbolic importance.
How else can we now make sure that we make our values come to life? We can do this by ensuring that we celebrate the heroes within the company.
For example, in my company, every month we highlight an individual, or a team (note, the efficacy of this depends on the national culture in question since in some cultures people do not like to be singled out). We can do this, for example, by having an interview with the person who coined the great idea and display the reasoning and practicality of their idea in our company magazine or intranet newsletter.
Basically, if your value is “everybody’s voice is heard,” celebrating people who share an idea creates “heroes.” And if you find it important that this can be anybody, then you need to ensure that you have a diverse range of people represented in your communication.
Now that you have a symbolic action, you have made it more concrete by displaying heroes to showcase the behavior you find important. How can you now make sure that it becomes even more consistent as your organizational cultural pattern?
You need to ritualize the behavior.
For example, you can do this by celebrating the behavior of sharing ideas and by having quarterly (or yearly) best-idea days. Things that get celebrated and have a name to them become an essential part of the organizational cultural experience that will help your organization be remembered and recognized.
You need to build in “speak up” as part of managerial appraisals and ask questions like, to which degree does your manager encourage you to speak up? You need to build it in development paths and teach managers and staff alike how, when, where to speak up.
People won’t remember the actual idea contribution survey, they won’t necessarily remember the monthly heroes, but they for sure will remember larger and regular events because these become the rituals of the organization. And this will help show people (not just tell) which values are important.
In other words, any value which is not expressed in concrete behavior is not a value. They are just words. So make sure that when talking about corporate values, you can drill it down to actual behaviors and that the important ones get ritualized. Have concrete examples of people displaying the behavior and ensure an appropriate communication frequency and channel.
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