The Importance of Values

by Eric Wann

Company Values, the mental image that arises for most people is a plaque on the wall or a slogan that is communicated once with little or no relation to their work.  For most organizations it becomes an exercise in futility.  But, if you look at some of today’s top performing companies you see a different picture: company values that are thoroughly instilled into the day-to-day activities of all employees.  Values that are well understood by each employee and how important they are to the overall success of the organization.

Organizational Values, when developed correctly, describe how the organization must behave in order to be successful.  Values complement the vision, mission, and strategy of the organization by becoming the “behavioral playing field” for all employees.  The vision describes where the company is headed.  The mission describes the overall focus of the organization.  The strategy provides, in specific terms, how the company will reach the vision set out.  The values set the behavioral boundaries. 

If there are no boundaries or values set forth for the company then one of two situations will occur.  Either the behavior of all employees will bunch together in the middle of the “playing field” or the behavior will be all over the place and managers will spend a great deal of time and effort dealing with and disciplining individuals and their unwanted behavior.

Clear values allow each employee to understand exactly where the behavioral “out of bounds” areas are and how to avoid stepping across those lines.  It enables everyone to use the entire field for maximum creativity, innovation, and teamwork.  It also allows individual employees the right to keep other employees in bounds when their behavior exceeds the communicated expectations.  Instead of the manager or supervisor discussing the situation with an employee, fellow employees can provide the same correction using the established values as a guide.

The importance of a strong set of values in a company becomes critical in two types of activities.  The first is day-to-day activities.  Keeping the business running smoothly, efficiently, and profitably is essential.  Values can be used to communicate the significant behaviors that allow the organization to be successful in what they do everyday.  The behavioral expectations are clear and well understood by all employees, even those in the entry level positions. 

The second area where values become critical is during a crisis situation.  It is during a crisis when it is important that everyone know what to do, to act almost instinctively.  Johnson and Johnson and the Tylenol Scare of the early 1980’s provided an excellent example of how well understood and embedded values can turn a potentially devastating situation into something positive.

Identifying the core values of an organization is an important process and one not to be taken lightly or as just one more management task.  Since the values become the very essence of what the company believes in, the proper amount of attention and time is necessary to achieve correct result.  In the next edition of this newsletter we will examine a five-step process to develop and put in place an effective set of company values.