“Baldwin occasionally stumbles over the truth, but he always hastily picks himself up and hurries on as if nothing had happened.” — Winston Churchill, English statesman and prime minister

A number of studies that have shown over the years that companies with “high standards of ethical behavior,” “shared values,” or who are “socially conscious” have much higher than average performance. That’s because when a team or organization identifies and lives its core values:

  • There’s a sharp focal point and context for culture change or renewal.
  • They shape organization structure, define the use of power, and determine the degree of participation, shared leadership, or autonomy of teams.
  • Teams are strengthened and collaboration is improved. James Kouzes and Barry Posner found, “Leaders who establish cooperative relationships inspire commitment and are considered competent. Their credibility is enhanced by building community through common purpose and by championing shared values. In contrast, competitive and independent leaders are seen as both obstructive and ineffective.”
  • Managers are less likely to contradict each other and confuse people in their organizations. Management teams can “sing from the same sheet of music” in caring for the organization’s context and focusing everyone on the improvements that really matter.
  • Everyone makes more consistent choices according to a shared hierarchy of values.
  • There’s a deeper source of spirit and passion renewal to draw from during continual change and constant improvement.
  • People feel less helpless and more hopeful, even if the organization has been having performance problems. They feel they can better predict and influence what happens to them, their teams, and the organization.
  • People spend less time playing political games and guessing what the “real reasons” are for management’s actions. Everyone knows what to expect from each other and what behavior is and isn’t acceptable.
  • Trust, toleration, and forgiveness levels increase.
  • Morale, pride, and team identity is enhanced.
  • People in the organization are either excited or repelled by the alignment with their own principles and beliefs. They reinforce the values by supporting them or leaving.
  • Hiring, promotion, reward and recognition, performance management, measurement and feedback, and skill development decisions and priorities are much clearer and more consistent.
  • Customers, suppliers, and other external partners know what to expect.
  • Rules and policies can be reduced and changed to treat people as responsible adults.

Well-grounded, shared values that are alive and thriving in teams and organizations can do all of the above and more. Now here’s the big BUT — most organizations, management teams, and managers have a major gulf between what they say and what they do. Since they confuse their aspired behavior with their actual behavior, they don’t recognize their own rhetoric-reality gulf. Sometimes they point to the declining work ethic as a reason for the inconsistent behavior on their team or in their organization.

But that is often a cop-out. The desire for doing meaningful work, being part of a winning team, and making a difference in our jobs has been on a steady increase throughout the western world. If I feel that “people don’t want to work anymore,” I need to take a deep look in my management mirror. Maybe they just don’t want to work with me!