“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:
During complaint handling training sessions, a vice president at one financial institution often told frontline servers to maintain a smile in their voice “even if the customer is a mooch.”
Many managers talk about the importance of customer service and doing what’s best for the customer. Then at month, quarter, or year end, they push their sales force to load up customers or the distribution chain with product so they can pump up their sales figures. So much for “the customer always comes first.”
The president of a major retailing chain kept talking about integrity and trust. At the same time, he expressed frustration that store managers weren’t “entrepreneurial enough” to keep extra merchandise that was shipped in error by external suppliers. “After all,” he explained, “these companies are always jerking us around.”
Many people are fed up with management rhetoric about empowerment, involvement, trust, and teamwork. They’re really not that gullible. They can easily look at the bureaucratic rules and policies, time clocks, call reports, executive perks and huge salary differences, second guessing of decisions, internal politics, slash and burn cost cutting, traditional product or service development processes, who’s ideas are listened to, how little time and energy is devoted to customers, light and casual training programs, stifling approval levels, rigid budgets and financial controls, and the overuse of waffling committees. These actions show loud and clear what management’s true values are.
Many senior management groups who declare teamwork to be a core value don’t recognize how their own failure to work as team raises the teamwork snicker factor. One management group discovered that the “sniping” they did to each other often turned into departments sniping at each other, pointing accusing fingers when something went wrong, and erecting walls around their turf. Little wonder that cross-functional teams floundered in this hostile culture.
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.