How Adding Behaviors to Your Organizational Values May Increase Alignment

by | Dec 14, 2023 | Leading Organizations, Managing Teams

Authored by Michelle Austin and Erica Haughton

Organizations love a good buzzword. Nowhere does this become more evident than in a review of corporate values statements. In a 2021 study of 525 company values statements, the most commonly cited values included integrity, innovation, respect, responsibility, and sustainability.

Nobody would disagree that organizations should live by any of these principles, but most people would disagree on how the values should be lived by employees. Does innovation mean that employees should be reinventing their work processes? Or that a product line needs to be redesigned? Does responsibility mean the employee should always arrive to work on time (and be punished if they are not)? Or does it mean the organization is responsible financially to its shareholders?

The need for an organization’s values to resonate and align with its employees is critical. Organizations benefit from cultural alignment through increased differentiation from competitors, a sustainable competitive advantage, higher levels of employee engagement and retention, and improved business outcomes. A 2020 MIT Sloan Management Review article showcased research comparing the officially stated values for over 500 companies with employees’ views on how those companies lived up to their stated values based on more than 1.2 million Glassdoor reviews. The data showed little to no, and in some instances, a negative correlation between the values a company publicly emphasizes and employees’ perceptions of how the company lives up to those values.

In 2021, our team at the Sanger Leadership Center reviewed and updated our organizational values through a process that included all of our staff. Since then, we have been strategic about ensuring our values are visible and tied to our work; however, we realized recently that we could do more to communicate to our team members how to enact the values to enhance understanding.

We looked at some examples from local companies, such as Zingerman’s and Menlo Innovations, which are well known for investing in their teams. Using these examples as inspiration, we expanded upon our values to include specific behaviors that showcase how team members live in alignment with our values every day.

As a result, we have found our values to be much more understandable, communicable, and tied to the work we do daily. Using the tool as a guide has allowed project leads to effectively set expectations and provide role clarity. It has also reduced ambiguity while empowering team members to take ownership and accountability for how they complete their work.

For the initial rollout, we shared the tool with the team and printed handouts for easy reference at each team member’s desk. In the future, we plan to incorporate the visual into our interviewing and onboarding processes for new hires. Finally, in the spirit of experimentation, we commit to remaining open and flexible to update the behaviors within as needed and look for new ways to use the graphic as a communication tool and guiding force for successful collaboration and decision-making.


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