By Jim Clemmer
"The values gap is the largest single source of cynicism and skepticism in the workplace today." — Andrall Pearson, former president of PepsiCo.
Recognizing the need to become more "values-driven," many managers have developed statements of "core values," "management philosophies," "guiding principles," or "aspirations." While this is a start in the right direction, many of these statements produce a "high snicker factor" throughout their organizations. Team and organization members dutifully humor their managers by placing their left hand over their heart, raising their right hand, pledging commitment to the pretty words — and then going back to work.
During more than a decade of work with hundreds of organizations struggling to redefine the desired values at the center of the new culture, we have found two common causes of the values rhetoric-reality gap. First is the failure to get to a few core statements or words. Too often, values statements are a laundry list pledging to be everything to everybody. Motherhood, apple pie, kitchen sink -- managers throw it all in there. They declare a belief in all that's good. In one extreme case a utility handed out pocket-sized folders to its thousands of employees listing the organization's 36 values!
Anything more than three to four core values are no values. As with so many issues of strategy and culture, managers need to set priorities about what's really important to the organization. Core values are those few single words or short statements that act as central "hooks" to hang the key behavioral guidelines that shape everyone's actions.
But, as with any idealistic target, an even bigger problem with values is instilling them in the organization once they have been articulated. Many managers make a mockery of a potentially powerful exercise like values clarification because their audio isn't connected with their video. What managers do and who they are speaks so loudly that team and organizational members can't hear what's being said.
Peanuts creator, Charles M. Schultz once observed, "There's a big difference between a bumper sticker and a philosophy." Here's how some managers have created "bumper sticker values" through their contradictory actions:
Effective cultural change has at its core a simple, basic definition of the beliefs that are to shape the organization's character. Then comes the hardest leadership test of all; consistently showing rather then just telling what the organization stands for.
Numerous managers have "done their values thing" and produced pretty parchment papers filled with inspiring words. However, many are frustrated because they feel that people throughout their organization or team "aren't getting the message." But people do get management's message. They see it loud and clear.