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When companies values are hot air

23 January, 2015

Recently, I visited a large Danish 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 collaboration. When I visit companies like that, I cannot help but think that the sign was created at "The great value day" several years ago. The only thing left today is the sign. The values have been forgotten. And habits have again taken over.

Many companies make use of value-based management, which really became popular in the 1990s and still is. 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.

I believe that if you want to change the company's values, you need to transform the values into habits. If you ask a random employee about the company’s corporate values, I am sure that the employee at best will remember half, because the values are too abstract and not relevant in the daily work.

Value posters can be a fine signal to customers and business partners if they are complied with, but for the employees the values must be a natural part of everyday working life.

Value concepts are not something companies should do workshops on and go on "survival courses" to identify. Values are deeply rooted in the company, perhaps for many years. Some are good and fruitful, and you want to pursue these. Others are not so good, and these you should try to change. However, the most important understanding is that values are as habits - both the good and the bad ones.

If you want to change some values in your business, you need to change the employees' habits, how they - often unconsciously - act and react.

Start with your own values and spread them out to the rest of the company. 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. Employees can easily see through the lack of authenticity. If the management is talking about values, but not comply with them.

Worship of the heroes is another way to promote values. 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.

And 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. And 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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