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Every organisation has values. The challenge, however, is that these are usually different from those written on the poster. To cite an infamous example, Enron’s espoused values were communication, respect, excellence and, you guessed it, integrity.

The gap between espoused values and how people actually behave in organisations is largely a function of five factors:

  • We judge ourselves by our noble intentions, but we judge everyone else by their actions. I may consider myself high on integrity because it is part of how I see myself, but if you don’t deliver on your commitments to me, I can justifiably claim that you lack integrity.
  • Values are a ‘how to’ not a ‘where to’. When you say “this is our vision and these are our values” you position them as an aspiration. You might as well say “I hope we have integrity one day.”
  • Our values are sometimes in conflict with our aspirations. We may value consistency, but if our vision is to be the most innovative company in our industry, then we have an issue of misalignment.
  • Living by stated values is difficult; it’s usually easier to go with the flow than to be clear and unapologetic about what you stand for.
  • We all have different rules, usually unconscious and/or unspoken, about what a value means. In order to experience the value of respect, I may have ten things that need to happen in perfect synchronicity, while you may experience respect if team members speak politely to one another. The issue is not about who is right or wrong, but whether we are aligned or misaligned on our rules.

The simplest and most effective way to bring values to life in an organization is to turn them into standards. Standards are like the agreed rules for your values.

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