Culture Always Trumps Values

Is it time to re-assess your organisation’s Purpose, Values and Culture?

It is an unrelenting constant that organisation culture always trumps values and it is to their regret that all too many organisations only realise this when a detrimental crisis occurs or a damaging scandal is uncovered.

Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on most organisations and their plans for recovery, now might be the ideal time to re-asses your organisation’s purpose, audit its culture, review corporate values and calibrate both leadership and employee behaviours.

The effect of the pandemic on our personal lives, social interactions and workplace practices has been extreme. Most organisations have been forced to re-think strategy, adjust operating models, reconfigure workspaces and introduce new ways of interacting and communicating. Whilst innovative technologies such as Google Hangouts, MS Teams and Zoom Video have enabled organisations to remain connected, they have all but eliminated the essential, close connected structures and highly productive social interactions that were once normal in the workplace.

For those functioning within socially distant environments and without the support of the structural norms or regular direct access to their leadership, their new reality has been a more complex and stressful working experience. The growing ‘working-from-home’ culture has the potential for ambiguities to grow in both leadership and employee behaviours. No doubt the lockdown restrictions will have affected actual employee engagement and exposed the organisation to potentially detrimental influences on its culture.

Creating a thriving workplace culture is an art not an algorithm and is certainly not simply the result of a published a set of values and codes of conduct. An organisation’s culture is uniquely shaped by the behaviours and actions of its leadership.

History continues to be littered with scandals caused when leadership failures corrupt organisational purpose, values and culture. Notable examples include Enron and the 2001 billion dollar accounting scandal, Lehman Brothers and the sub-prime mortgage scandal causing the bank to file for bankruptcy in 2008, BP and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010,Volkswagen and the emissions scandal in 2015, and the most recent Wirecard $2.2 billion accounting scandal uncovered in Germany.

When a flawed leadership is fuelling a failing culture, reinforcing an organisation’s values isn’t going to work. What really matters is transforming the actions and behaviours of the leadership and aligning them with the organisation’s real purpose and core values. The leadership are role models in the organisation and they must have the tenacity, ability and awareness to continuously set the standard of behaviour, be seen to sweat the small stuff and have the personal integrity to build cultural trust.

Without the direct, visible and continuous connection between leadership behaviours and their organisation’s purpose, values and culture, the organisation and its people will be starved of the opportunity to continuously learn and grow.

As COVID-19 will be with us for some considerable time it is vital that organisations rise to the heightened demands, tensions and challenges of Customer loyalty and employee engagement. In doing so, it has never been more important for your leadership to secure the faithful alignment of your people with your organisation’s purpose, ambition and core values.

The brutal reality however, is that your organisation will ultimately only acquire the culture fostered by its leadership. The role models they represent will directly impact your employee behaviours and the quality of their workplace experience and because you lead by example, the lowest standards you exhibit are likely to be the highest standards you can expect from them.

Whilst reflecting on your organisation’s leadership, the following questions could be a good place to begin to assess how it currently aligns with your organisation’s purpose, values and culture:

  • What are the leadership behaviours your people expect from you – have you asked them?
  • What are the leadership behaviours your people actually experience – have you asked them?
  • How are the shared values and behaviours of the leadership exhibited in the daily high-impact experiences of everyone in the organisation?
  • And are they sufficiently exaggerated and visible to achieve the desired responses from your people?

In the face of the ever changing workplace the one thing to remember is the imperative for your organisation to never stop learning – after all, the speed with which you learn and put new learnings into action is your most valuable competitive advantage.

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Culture trumps values

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