We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit… (attributable to Aristotle)
Few months ago, I had a brief encounter with Michelle (real name withheld) that made me feel more proud of being a Ghanaian. Michelle is a young receptionist at a moderate boutique hotel here in Ghana. I was attending a funeral ceremony and so I checked-in one Saturday dawn at that hotel. When I was checking out the following Sunday morning, I pulled money from my wallet to pay for the cost of two days stay at the hotel. Michelle just said “… sir, please you are supposed to pay for only one night”. For a moment, I thought the lady had mistaken me for someone else, I tried explaining to justify why I should pay for two days, but this lady insisted it was only one night because the room was not under reservation at the period I checked-in, and that in the hotel’s policy I should be charged for only one night. I was jolted! That experience got me thinking, and I couldn’t agree more with the words of the popular philosopher Will Durant that “nothing so educates us as a shock”.
Amongst other immediate options, Michelle had the chance of appropriating for her own good the extra day’s rate which I was so willing to pay. She rather chose the path of a positive values system. That small incident led me to learn and conclude that there are still some decent values-driven women and men in the world today, and that all is not lost yet. How could this young lady (obviously not rich) resist the urge of getting free money for temporary gratification? What was it that made her to demonstrate such positive behavioural trait at the workplace to a total stranger? I figured it out that one highly probable factor was a strong personal values-system.
Values according to Sociologists are simply the guiding principles, beliefs or standards of behaviour that are important which serve as frames of reference for determining what is desirable or undesirable by an individual or a group. Values to a large extent influence a person’s behaviour and attitude. The same is true of corporations. Companies have core values just as individuals. The core values are supposed to guide our organizational lives and decision-making processes.
However, in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world where businesses have to take decisions with almost the speed of light, are values still necessary? Leaders and managers of today are hard pressed to “go for the kill” in order to survive and beat the competition at the expense of our expressed values and guiding behaviours. It appears that values are being sacrificed on the altar of cost-management. When profit is in competition with values, your bet will be good as mine on the option that most companies will choose.
There is much talk about employees not aligning their behaviours with companies’ values thereby leading to behavioural aberrations but let me ask quickly:
- Is your company culture a very good reflection of its expressed core values?
- Are the values of your company consistently demonstrated by its leaders, managers and employees?
- Are the leaders walking the talk?
If the CEO does not model values of integrity and accountability, the Chief Human Resources Officer will only model them superficially, consequently the Maintenance Supervisor will pretend to be modelling the values and the Plant Operator will equally be disillusioned about what values to demonstrate from the inside-out. In every society or organization, employees regard their frontline leaders and managers as the touchstone of all the values espoused by the organization. It is therefore critical for leaders, managers and supervisors to model the right values consistently.
How should employers socialise their workers into core values systems of the company in order to achieve organizational goals, knowing that employees come into the workplace from diverse social and cultural upbringing, backgrounds and beliefs? That process of acculturation at the employee level requires some conscious drive (effort), investment of time and resources to enjoy the dividends through the implementation of the following simple actions:
- Training is paramount. Re-train as long as it takes employees to assimilate the values-system of the organization. For some it may be one hour to assimilate, for others it may be weeks because of the different approaches and the states of the learners. Use appropriate symbols, artefacts and tokens.
- Practice a values-based decision-making approach relentlessly as opposed to ‘cost’. Avoid the trap of being penny-wise and pound foolish. Leaders and all employees must commit to progressively live the values. Reward or recognise good examples. You could identify employee champions to model the various values consistently.
- Promote an organizational culture of speaking-up. Give employees outlets to express freely their views from an informed position.
- Promote an organizational culture of listening-up by the various layers of leadership within the company.
- Promote an organizational culture of following-up. Do not leave important matters outstanding into perpetuity to create doubt about commitments. It must be a commitment for managers and staff to do this.
We need to refocus on these essentials within our various organizations as leaders and managers. If we do so, we will be able to avoid some of the consequences of a flip-flop in an organization’s values-systems.
“Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard” … Colin Powell
[The concluding part of this write-up follows, titled: “Promoting values-driven organizations: the ethical dilemma (Part II)]
Daniel may be contacted with comments on email@example.com