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Quit the values and worship the habits

06 October, 2015
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Several companies have them. Values. Either on the wall at the front desk, in the company’s handbook or on the website. However, are the defined values really worth anything when they have to contend with many years of deep-rooted habits in a company?

Columbus has been in business for 26 years. A relatively long history in the IT world. And with a long history follows informal rules and deep-rooted habits! This applies not only to Columbus, but to all businesses.

Recently, I visited a large Danish manufacturing company. On the wall at the front desk, there was a large sign with the company's values. I think it said something about customer focus and team spirit. It is typically four-five words or statements trying to describe the company’s core values. This was also the case here. And I could not help thinking that the sign probably was formulated by the management highly influenced by external management consultants. Today, only the sign is left. The values are forgotten. And habits have again taken over.

I am sure, that if you ask a random employee about the company’s values, the employee will at best remember the headline, because the values are too abstract and not relevant in the daily work.

Many companies make use of value-based management. With value-based management, you often want to define the values you would like to see employees comply with in their jobs. To ensure that employees are able to identify with the company's mission and create better results. Nevertheless, it often fails. The reason is that in spite of the good intentions, there is at least one great challenge for most companies’ approach to set up a common set of values: Habits beat values.

Values are deeply rooted in the company. Some are good and fruitful, and you want to pursue these. Others are bad and demotivating, and those you should try to change. However, the most important understanding is that values are as habits - both the good and the bad ones.

This is why I argue, that if you want to change some values in your business, you need to change the employees' habits; how they - often subconsciously - act and react.

Start with your own values. As a leader, it is about showing the direction by living out the values that employees must comply with. Walk-the-talk, as you say. If the management is talking about values, but not comply with them, they lose credibility.

Worship the heroes. The company's heroes influence the rest of the employees. You can worship the heroes by rewarding and promoting employees who lead and live the true and good habits. In this way, the values become measurable and gradually natural habits in their daily work.

Tell stories. Tell stories about employees who have demonstrated the commitment, which the company appreciates. Again and again and again. We all remember the good stories and we all want to be part of them.

Then, let the interpretation of the values transform into the company. Most importantly, be realistic, take action and take the lead

Need I mention that Columbus does not have a value sign at the front desk, but we constantly work with practicing the good habits.

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