Some companies just seem to attract employees who live the company vision and ethics. Everything they say and do is aligned with the same purpose. When you fly Southwest Airlines you really do get the sense that every employee is dedicated to the highest quality of customer service and embodies the warm, friendly vision the airline wants to project.
This kind of single-minded commitment to the company values can be accomplished through the effective use of a values statement, says Dr. Christopher Bauer, a psychologist, trainer, speaker, and consultant on ethics.
Signs of a Good Values Statement
First, you need to have a good values statement, advises Dr. Bauer. That means it should be brief, clear and ingrained.
You’ll know you have a good values statement “if you notice that persistently decisions at all levels in all departments are measured to some degree by whether or not they are aligned with the values that you say you have,” says Dr. Bauer. The values statement must become part of the fabric of the organization.
In order to get a good values statement to do that, adds Dr. Bauer, you need to take some simple steps to ensure employees are engaged with it.
Make it part of the everyday conversation
This is not the same as displaying it on plaques and business cards. “I am persistently impressed by the moderate to strong negative correlation between values on people’s walls and business cards, and their ability to tell you either what’s in the values statement or what it actually means to their job,” says Dr. Bauer. This doesn’t mean that if you put them on the wall people will forget them, he says, but people tend to put them on the wall instead of talking about them.
Make it part of training and evaluations
When training employees, reference the values statement, advises Dr. Bauer. He also suggests making it a part of job interviews so that a new employee entering the organization has already been exposed to the company’s values and is thinking about them right from the start.
Incorporating the company’s values statement into coaching and during performance appraisals also helps to ingrain these ideals into every level of the company. For example, discuss how an employee is bringing the company’s values to life in the performance of his or her job.
Build in a review every few years
Values statements are pretty unlikely to change dramatically…and probably not every few years,” says Dr. Bauer. “But I think there’s something powerful, if subtle, about the process of saying every couple of years ‘we’re going to sit down and take a look and ask is this still who we are, or do we know more about this now and would we word this differently,” he says. And if it does need to change, it’s important to identify that. “If you’re going by values that are no longer relevant, or that no longer represent you, it’s dragging down your organization.”
Benefits of Getting it Right
If you are doing things right, says Dr. Bauer, there will be a palpable change in the work environment. “If you pay attention to it, you’ll notice there’s more co-operation, people are more single-minded in terms of their purposes.”
As the company’s values take hold, you are likely to see some more objective kinds of changes as well, in terms of productivity and output, and possibly loss reduction. But this takes time, he warns.
“Any cultural change isn’t going to happen overnight. Ultimately, you’re talking about long-haul changes. Sometimes it’s going to take a generation, at least, of employees, before these values are fully part of the fabric of your organization.”
The earlier executives put the effort into developing and implementing a values statement, the sooner the benefits will be realized for the organization.