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Values Can Be More Than Words On A Page

The power of purpose comes when it's supported by organizational culture, defined as the marriage of purpose, values and habits.

n more than 600 interviews with corporate leaders around the world, I've seen time and time again that while many companies are doing a great job determining their purpose and discovering the core values they want to drive their organization, they're not doing such a great job putting those values into practice.

If you want purpose to transform your business, just writing down your purpose and ascribing some values to your organization isn't enough. The power of purpose comes when it's supported by organizational culture, defined as the marriage of purpose, values and habits.

Values can't just be words on a page, they need to serve as a guide for your organization. Here's how.

Use Values to Integrate Diversity

Many organizations today think they can eliminate the Values/Habits gap and strengthen their culture simply by hiring a bunch of people who "are a cultural fit." But hiring a homogeneous group of people isn't what culture is, according to Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect and CEO of The Medici Group.

"Most people think success comes from surrounding yourself with others that are like you," says Johansson. "But true success - whether it's personal or that of an organization - involves growth. And in order to grow, you need diversity - of experience, opinion and perspective. Diversity will always be at the core of change. It's the only way people will find new opportunities, surmount new challenges and gain new insights."

But if diversity is key to innovation, it's crucial to find ways to bring diverse people together so their various perspectives can be used. That's where values come in. "Values help people understand what's important. The values of the organization should be explicit to the goals you are trying to reach. And if they are truly values, they should be enforced."

Use Values to Govern Behavior

"Values govern behavior, behavior governs the way we work and the way we collaborate," says Yves Morieux, Senior Partner & Managing Director for The Boston Consulting Group. "If you want to see new behavior then you need to instill a new value, or align behavior with the values you already have."

It sounds obvious, but in practice it's not. Says Joel Benenson, founder and CEO of the Benenson Strategy Group, "Driving a strong corporate culture must be run like a campaign and driven by the CEO. Too many companies outsource this to the HR department. But in fact, driving culture - and especially changing culture - must by led from the top, must be constant and consistent if you truly want your entire organization living up to your core values."

Many marketers and culture experts are hopeful that there is a shift taking place towards more consistent between values and habits, at least at more purpose-driven or "conscious" organizations. But Benenson thinks this values gap won't be changing any time soon. "I don't think companies are making the shift on values because there's too much emphasis on short term financial results like share price and not enough actual vision."

Values are just as critical as purpose because without them, companies have no guide for the actions they take every day. Purpose is unchanging, but the business climate changes every day. Values are what allow your organization to tie actions to goals.

"Values should drive behavior, says Benenson. "But you need to be very specific about what those values actually are because if you have too many values - you have no values. Values need to be consistent, actionable and lived by everyone - especially those at the top."

Live the Spirit of Your Values

So, how do you live those values that are so important to the success of your business? First, you need to ensure that any policies you have written down are cross-checked against purpose and values to ensure that they are consistent.

Then, you need to take things a step further. Policies are about the letter of the law. But what drives behavior more often than not, is the spirit of the law - the message we want to send by the actions we take. That's a feeling that often is hard to quantify, but it's essential if you want values to drive your organization.

Says Keith Mckinnon, Communications Advisor at Flimp Communications, "The thoughts and feelings associated with your values need to be embedded into your work and consistent with your daily behaviors. People don't get engaged by rules, policies or even value statements. They become engaged by the feelings they have about their work, about the purpose they're trying to fulfill. If they're not feeling good about it then they aren't going to be engaged with the work and customers won't be engaged either."

Purpose is like an engine that can give organizations power. Values are the steering wheel that guides, and habits are the tires that put the power to the road. You need all three if you want to get anywhere.


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