Core Values and Corporate Culture

In 2017 Antilles Economics and Blueprint Creative Inc. partnered to research and eventually publish the Employee View of the Employer Brand. Our goal was to investigate three broad areas of an organisation’s value proposition to its employees: (1) the experience that prospective employees have with the employer’s brand when job hunting; (2) the level of engagement of current employees and their overall attitudes towards their employers; and (3) the response that current employees have to internal communications efforts that reinforce the employer brand. One of the key findings of this research was the strong link between the alignment of an employee’s personal values and the organisation’s core values. Specifically, value misalignment contributed to low employee engagement. Roughly half of the respondents in the study indicated that their personal values and their organisation’s values were not aligned, and the employee net promoter score (eNPS) for those respondents was 60 points below that of employees whose values were aligned with their organisation’s. Two-thirds of these employees with misaligned values would like to be working somewhere else and 41.1% were actively job-hunting.

But why are corporate values so important, especially since many employees are not even sure what their organisation’s core values actually are? The answer lies in how core values influence corporate culture, which in turns determines employee engagement levels. One of our beliefs at Antilles Economics is that you can’t execute a winning strategy without an enabling corporate culture. And you can’t develop an enabling corporate culture without engaged team members that buy in to the core values that underpin the culture. The root, therefore, is core values.

One of our starting points when consulting in strategy is to review the official core values of the organisation and discuss with senior leaders the extent to which they believe the organisation lives its core values. We have had some very frank discussions on this topic, often with senior leaders lamenting that they are not even sure whether there is an organisational consensus on what the core values mean. In some staff sessions, more junior staff members have regaled us with stories of how other staff members (at all levels, just in case you were wondering) did not live a core value. Whenever we have asked them how they each interpreted the core value in question, a debate would start as each person had a different interpretation. Too many organisations do not bother to explain to staff how to live the stated core values and how it informs the very strategies and processes that they are expected to execute. It is clear to us, having had many of these conversations, that it is not enough to simply state an one-word core value and assume that everyone interprets it the exact same way. The culture that emerges over time from a lack of clarity around how to live the organisation’s values is very, very difficult to change, so it’s worth taking the time to make them clear.

Turning clearly stated and communicated core values into an enabling culture takes patience, clarity and consistency. A corporate culture is the “collection of self-sustaining patterns of behaving, feeling, thinking and believing that determine the way we do things around here” (access link here). The author noted that the ‘critical few’ are the key behaviours that when aligned with the company’s overall strategy and executed by a large number of people would have great impact on business success. They must engender emotional commitment, and can be reflected or translated into tangible steps that people can take every day. In short, therefore, to develop a culture, organisations have to inculcate their core values in the very way that things are done. Too often, however, that is exactly what does not happen. Core values are communicated by senior leaders to the wider organisations, and promptly forgotten as processes and policies (i.e. the governance on how things are done) are developed. As employees conduct their day-to-day duties in adherence with these processes and policies, they too forget the core values. And, like a faucet dripping water onto a stone, over time the core values are completely eroded. To embed core values into day-to-day operations requires clarity on how the values actually influence daily operations. Only then can you embed them into processes and policies. Furthermore, only through implant into policies and processes can the core values deliver the consistency that is required to build an enabling culture.

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