Real Values or Fake Values??

May 20, 2020

The end of the financial year is almost here, and soon after, the AGMs will roll out. The standard scripts with annual results and strategic statements will again be announced, as will the declaration that the organisation is “values-based”. So what is a values-based organisation? In general a values-based organisation is underpinned by a consistent set of values, attributes and aspired cultural norms in which the organisational lives and breaths, beyond its financial results. Common values include equity, sustainability, compassion, excellence, community, partnerships, transparency, giving back and I could go on…….and on.

Are your organisational values real or fake?

Scan any strategic plan or annual report and you will see them in black and white or even carved in sandstone. The adopted values are often seen as the pillar of the organisation. Some organisations even write them on every piece of documentation they produce and announce them at every company gathering. Does your leadership follow its own publicly boasted values-based system?

Rebecca Bradshaw who is an independent consultant and ISO auditor talks about the “visible values” she identifies when auditing organisations.

Beyond the pretty templates and policies for every known process, are organisational values embedded into everyday activities.

Does the leadership follow what it publicly values?

Or are your value statements rheortical and fake?

The Role of Leadership

As Peter Drucker – a leading expert in organisational leadership says “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” meaning that no matter how sharp the strategy is, it’s the culture which enables success and in turn is often underpinned by the organisational true values. In exploring this piece, I asked a few of my professional colleagues who work in both the commercial and not for profit space for a few examples of misaligned values, (I had too many examples to print) One colleague in the finance sector told me that her organisation values “equity and opportunity” yet the leadership is made up of white middle-class men who go cycling together (MAMILs), surely the leadership would have difficulty developing and maintaining real legitimacy. I’ll bet the same leadership wonders why women leave the organisation. Another person in this space told me that an organisational value which attracted him to join the company was “Work-life balance” yet employees were expected to do 60 hour weeks and often expected to work on weekends. A colleague in the health-care space told me of their organisation’s value of “Compassion”, yet the board and leadership fostered a culture of bullying. This same organisation also prided its self on “Transparency”, with the leadership being mistrusted by staff due to the many hidden agendas.

The value of real values

 I love that “values-based” organisations exist. Beyond the PnL and balance sheets, many organisations have a triple bottom line of impact and purpose and are great places to work and thrive. As a leader, you must align with organisational values you promote to be seen as authentic and in turn, this will impact organisational behaviour. Just like fake news, fake values are easy to spot and can ruin an organisation’s culture in minimal time. Examining “Values” alignment is a great diagnostic tool when unpacking organisational cultural discourse and developing a roadmap forward. Michele Barry is the Director of Frontis Consulting, she loves helping organisations to do better and hates fake values. 😉