Need to know: company values

HR often bemoans the fact that it wants to be more involved in business strategy. But how many of us actually have a view on both the implicit and explicit company values and a strategy for identifying their strengths and weaknesses?


Company values are often one area that HR is seen to own. But do we use this as a lever to drive more strategic conversations, turning the fluffy and intangible into something that is considered to be strategically important?


Whether or not an organisation explicitly articulates and/or publishes its values can impact in different ways on how it achieves its goals.


An organisation that writes its values down and is vocal about them has the advantage that its workforce can easily identify them. However, these organisations run the risk of engendering cynicism in their workforce. The values are often aspirational rather than already being lived day to day, and therefore unless employees can see activity that is striving towards consistently enacting those values, they are likely to end up being cynical about them.


Alternatively, organisations that just get on and live their values without making a lot of fuss about them, where the values are ‘just the way we do things around here’, often avoid cynicism, but leave themselves open to different pitfalls. For example, it can be very hard for new starters to understand the company culture and they often don’t get positive help to fit in with the way the company works. If they contravene the values it can leave them confused as to how or why they have gone wrong.


In either type of organisation, HR needs to be working with business managers to determine what the company’s behaviours and decisions say about what its values really are.


Once the values have been made explicit, it is then important to establish whether they help or hinder the business strategy. The challenge is to measure the impact of the company values against the business strategy – especially if any changes are made.


Common ways of measuring the impact are conducting values surveys, including questions in employee engagement surveys, and measuring management buy-in through making it part of a 360-degree process.


This is exactly the sort of topic that HR should be debating in its quest to become more strategic.

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