Anyone who’s developed corporate core values knows how quickly the process can become an arduous back-and-forth in search of the elusive Goldilocks moment where you find something that’s “just right.”
Even after all that work is done, companies still wind up with outwards-facing value statements that don’t reflect the company’s identity on the inside. Today on the Bonfyre Breakdown, we’re taking a look at a recent article from the excellent AllThingsIC blog investigating how internal communicators can mend the values fence.
What’s it about?
Jackie Le Fèvre knows the impact core values have over company culture. As the U.K. lead for Minessence Values Framework and director of the firm Magma Effect, Le Fèvre helps organizations map out corporate core values that link to strategic business objectives and stated goals. In her guest article for AllThingsIC, she pulls from her experience to highlight what she calls a “do-say gap” present in many businesses.
Despite the time companies take to craft idealized statements of what they value most, those values go unlived in the attitudes, behaviors, and decision-making that occur afterward. Le Fèvre frames this contrast in the recent controversy with Carillion, the UK’s second largest construction services firm that collapsed in January.
Despite it’s public-facing values statement (“we care, we improve, we deliver, we achieve together”), the organization held its business partners in contempt, made meager contributions to its company pension policies, and went out of its way to protect board members’ bonuses as the firm unraveled. At Carillion, the do-say gap was chasmic.
So what does this have to do with internal communications? Well, Le Fèvre says internal communicators can bridge the do-say gap around values in two key areas: context and enforcement. We’ll explore what that means down below.
Why do we love it?
We’re firm believers in living company core values to their fullest. Even expanding the clarity employees have over corporate core values can greatly improve daily work performance. Data shows that when employees fully understand organizational values they’re 51 times more likely to be be engaged than employees who don’t.
As our own Rob Seay wrote last year, “Core values are a Rosetta Stone, helping employees decipher the language of their work environment. They dictate everything about an organization, from its brand, to the type of employee it wants to attract, to the rules of engagement in the work environment.”
Seay’s understanding of the way values work falls in line with Le Fèvre’s. She explains that corporate core values provide a template for appropriate behavior in the workplace.
“When an organisation states a set of core values these should be the internal framework by which acceptable and unacceptable is determined,” she writes. And in this alignment of corporate core values and workplace code of conduct, the internal communications function has two duties.
The first is that communicators should use their role as storytellers to drive a greater organizational awareness of what corporate core values mean. They have the ability to take what’s currently going on the company and tell its story through lens of what matters most to the company, making that narrative more meaningful as a result.
“We all have our own individual values through which we filter information to determine what matters to us and if something matters what it means,” Le Fèvre writes. “So when you are telling the internal story of your organisation use the stated core values as architecture to highlight the relevance or noteworthiness of the information.”
Le Fèvre notes that this applies to all messaging communicators create–no matter if it’s a time of prosperity or scarcity. Even when you have to cover a disappointing financial report, she emphasizes that this is still an opportunity to call out the ways in which values were lived. The alternative–reporting only on failure or a disappointment–sends a different message: that corporate core values only matter when things are going well. Starting to see how easy it is to fall into the do-say gap?
The second action-item requires communicators to act almost as values watchdogs. Think “see something, say something” but with internal communicators acting as the first line of defense for actions that appear to contradict the company’s stated values. Le Fèvre’s recommendation is that any time leaders need messaging for their specious decision-making, communicators should ask leaders, “How does this fit with our values?”
“Sometimes leaders and managers make poor decisions in the heat of the moment and then get wedded to them when they can’t see an honourable way out,” say Le Fèvre. “Prompting them to stop for a moment and reflect on the core values creates an opportunity to refine, maybe even revoke, something that would otherwise do damage to relationships and culture.”
Still, internal communicators can follow through on their duties and find that the stated corporate core values do not resonate with the company the way they should. Le Fèvre’s advice? It might be time to go back to the drawing board and create values more closely aligned to the organization’s culture.
This month’s Bonfyre Breakdown discussed “Are the words on the wall your values?” an article from AllThingsIC. Bonfyre Breakdown is the featured article series in our Monthly Roundup newsletter, a collection of our favorite culture, engagement, and communications articles from across the web. Subscribe today to see what all is highlighted in the latest newsletter!