...and motivation takes care of itself."
One of the most visible effects the current VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) business environment has been the impact on organizational culture. We define organizational culture in our leadership and business coaching practice as the shared set of Values, Beliefs, Norms and Attitudes within an organization that guide the Behavior of its members. At the foundation of this definition are the core values of the organization that become the guiding principles of its leaders as they model the desired culture.
What we’ve observed over the last four years is less about the values themselves and more about the struggle leaders face in aligning their core values to the desired culture. The title quote from Tony Hsieh, the late founder of Zappos, highlights the point. When we look at the relationship between values and culture, we can state it in simple terms as Values + Alignment = Culture. With that in mind, let’s explore why alignment is so critical to achieving the desired organizational culture.
Organizational values are the guiding principles used by leaders to set the foundation for how to conduct their business. They inform key decisions leaders must make to achieve the sustainable identity and success of the business. As my friend John Blumberg, author of "Good to the Core" and "Return on Integrity" says, “Having Core Values will cost you. Not having them will destroy you.” Leaders must make difficult decisions, especially when the likelihood of revenue growth conflicts with what the organization stands for. It is in these situations where alignment of values plays a key role!
Alignment very much corresponds to the integrity leaders display in how their behavior echoes their stated core values. As we’ve written in the past, leaders don’t really know what they believe until they have to believe it and act on those beliefs in a very visible way. There was a well-known organization whose stated core values were: Communications, Integrity, Excellence and Respect. Of course, these were the published core values of Enron and we know how that story ended. No effective leader knowingly wants to be labeled as out-of-integrity, the term used when actions and words do not align. Misalignment with core values creates a lack of trust by the followers who, like all humans, put more stock in the leader’s actions than in the leader’s words when the two are in conflict.
The key to creating effective alignment with organizational values is for leaders to define up front what each value looks like in action. In our leadership and business coaching practice, we ask leaders to describe what each of their core values looks like in practical terms. In the book, “It’s My Company Too”, the value of respect at Tasty Catering is told through an actual story that became the inspiration for the book’s eventual title. Without behavioral expectations that are consistently socialized throughout the organization, each value is open to interpretation leading to a culture that is out of alignment with desired results!
Every organization has a culture. The question is whether it is the desired culture needed for sustainable success. In our own executive leadership experiences, our primary stated cultural norm was adaptability. In that context, our leadership team had to consistently model what we defined as adaptability for our teams to believe in, and embrace, the desired culture. When we stated we would evolve (read: change) every six months so as to not become complacent, we had to ensure the integrity of our words. In the eleven years of executive leadership across three organizations in two different industries, we never missed a six-month evolutionary change!
In all four of our Missing Piece books, we highlight the impact of alignment. In our fourth and most recent installment, “Finding The Missing Piece ~ The Impact of Effective Communications on Sustainable Success”, we were inspired by the challenges leaders faced at the outset of the pandemic in effectively communicating to their organizations across all levels of leadership. These challenges had a direct impact on their efforts to maintain their culture in alignment with their core values, a struggle that arguably still exists today!
How is your culture aligned to your organizational values? If you are not sure, we can help!