Credit Union Times Sept 2023
Stuart R. Levine, Chairman and CEO, Stuart Levine & Associates

Organizational values matter. Values are the guiding principles underlying priorities and driving decisions. Yes, values matter, but organizations themselves don’t really have values. It’s people who do. A person’s values affect their relationships, how they spend their time, what they focus on, how they think about their work, and what decisions they make. Alignment of personal values with a common set of core organizational values enables people to work together to achieve their goals. Values that encourage trust, promote teamwork, inspire innovation, and support employee growth both engage the workforce and positively impact the productivity and profitability of the organization.

Unfortunately, in far too many cases, what organizations list as values are not really the ones in operation. Gallup reports that only 23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they are able to apply their organization’s values to their work every day. Plus, only 27% strongly agree that they “believe in” their organization’s values, in large part because they do not see them driving the operation of the business. Researchers from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business study on “The Value of Corporate Culture” and Gallup both found that what matters is whether employees buy into what leaders say their company’s values are.

People must see values in action. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a losing strategy. Your actions tell your team what is acceptable. If you are always late for meetings, you build a team culture where lateness is allowed. If you frequently lose your temper and yell at others, these behaviors become the norm. What kind of example do you as a leader set?

Statistics from both Booth and Gallup underscore that too many companies have a disconnect between stated values and the values driving decisions. Leaderships’ deeds communicate much more than their words. Remember that a leader’s behaviors and decisions are closely watched by employees, and employees follow the lead of management.

Once core organizational values are clearly identified, there must be agreement across the organization that they will be consistently applied in decision-making. Overseeing this process takes data. Management needs information to understand where the organization is at any given point in time, and to provide guidance on progress. Collecting accurate measurements of organizational culture in general and core values in particular is critical. Tracking the key elements of the culture then becomes an important component of the CEO’s dashboard.

In one of our large major medical center clients in the New York metropolitan area, we made sure that organizational values led to high-quality patient-centric care, integrity, continuous learning, and teamwork. Management proactively learned to demonstrate these values in day-to-day decisions and actions. Budgets, job descriptions, continuous learning programs, compensation and employee recognition all signaled to the workforce that values were fundamental to the operation of the organization.

Our learning programs for their call center employees gave each person the understanding and tools they needed to provide high-quality patient service. Every training began with a focus on mission and on organizational values. This guiding force for decision-making had a major positive impact on patient service and satisfaction.

A values-driven culture energizes sustainable performance by inspiring the workforce, attracting top talent, and serving to retain the best employees. Talented people want to work for an organization with a flourishing culture. Values are key to performance. When the words have meaning, and people at all levels of the organization embrace them, the culture is positive, engaging and a motor for productivity and profitability.

Leaders ask questions of their people. Roger Milliken, former Chairman and CEO of Milliken & Company, a pioneer in manufacturing, once said to our firm during our consultancy, “What are my people saying?”  He wanted to listen and truly hear others, showing a deep respect for his employees’ thoughts and concerns.

Nothing strengthens a brand more effectively than acting consistently and with integrity. Your brand is your name in the marketplace and a trusted brand gives you the credibility to get things done. Reputations can be ruined overnight, and leadership actions must consistently build confidence in your organization’s brand. Study ethical companies like Milliken & Company, which are guided by a commitment to do the right thing. Halsey Cook, president and CEO of Milliken & Company is proud of the strong sense of integrity that drives their global team. They set standards that reflect their values and live up to them.

Focus on doing the same thing in your organization and you will see results in both performance and profitability.