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Values: How valuable are they?

4 min read


This post is part of the series “Communication,” a weeklong effort co-hosted by SmartBrief’s SmartBlog on Leadership and the folks at Switch & ShiftKeep track of the series here and check out our daily e-mail newsletter, SmartBrief on Leadership. Don’t subscribe? Sign up.

Does your organization care about employee engagement? Does it have a set of values employees know and understand? If the answer to the first question is “yes,” the answer to the second needs to be “yes,” too.

Employee research has found having a known set of values is a gateway to making full engagement possible. In fact, Modern Survey’s Fall 2013 U.S. Workforce Engagement Study found when employees respond that their organization’s values are known and understood by most employees, they are 37 times more likely to be fully engaged than someone who works at an organization with little-known values or no values at all.

Since most organizations have a set of values, they should be in good shape, right?

Wrong! Having values is only part of the equation. The hard part is making sure those values are known and understood. To ensure they are, there are three important steps leaders should be taking to communicate their organizations’ values.

1. Start right away

Make your values known to candidates during the hiring process. This will accomplish two things. First, candidates will walk away clearly understanding the fabric of the organization and how decisions are made. Second, communicating your values in the hiring process is a qualifier.

When you state the values, look the candidate in the eyes and say: “These are the cornerstone of our foundation. If these don’t resonate with you and your personal values, that’s OK, but this isn’t the right place for you.” The right candidates will have their feelings about working at your organization strengthened. With any luck, the wrong candidates will opt out during the hiring process, rather than opting out after they’re hired.

2. Note what employees do and how they do it

When employees go through performance evaluations, do you only consider what they accomplished? Or do you also evaluate how they got their results?

There are many organizations that have values, but when it comes to disciplining a top performer who behaves badly, they look the other way. If you want to send a message about how important your values are, make honoring them part of your performance-management process. Do that, and employees will certainly pay attention. Some organizations place as much as 50% of employees’ performance evaluation on how well they model the organization’s values.

3. Reward and recognize

Another way to show the importance of your values is to recognize and reward employees who regularly exemplify the values. While leaders can model the behavior, all employees are, ideally, following suit.

At one well-known organization, employees are given “Values” cards they can fill out and give to a co-worker who has demonstrated one of the organization’s values. Another organization has a more formal process: Five employees who’ve best lived the organization’s values receive significant financial bonuses presented by the CEO during a public-recognition event each year.

Extraordinary organizations looking to build a culture of employee engagement know the importance values play in making full engagement possible. If you want your values to be a living, breathing part of your organization, communication is the key. Communicating your values in the hiring process, making them part of the performance review, and recognizing and rewarding employees for living them are certain methods for ensuring your values are known and understood — not just writing on the wall or the back of a security badge.

Don MacPherson is an employee performance expert with over 17 years of industry experience. As president of the human capital measurement company Modern Survey, MacPherson oversees the organization’s consulting and employee measurement practices. His areas of expertise include understanding employee and customer motivations, developing effective leadership, and creating processes for gathering employee feedback. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.