Every company risks exposure to UV-Rays (Useless Values, Rituals, Acronyms, Yawns and Sameness). When you take a step back and observe it as an outsider, the ritual ceremony that companies take part in of developing and posting business values is really a quasi-religious program. Like a tribal celebration, lofty values about good behavior, honesty, hard work, and even morality, are heralded, and the tribe feels good for awhile about the ideals set forth. But ultimately, nothing changes. Because in most organizations, values exist as general statements with little, if any, relationship to the actions people take. They are stylized words or clever acronyms on plaques, screen savers, posters in elevators and prefaces to employee handbooks. So the tribe goes on about its business, believing that if their values are defined and publicized, they will, of their own accord, make their way into the culture and influence actions. Since there is at least a short lived momentum, members of the tribe conclude that the ritual of developing, discussing, and posting values is important to the leaders and thus episodically important to the tribe, at least for a few days each year. Celebration ensues and the cycle repeats. Useless.
Over the past two years we have examined a number of large corporations in terms of the gap between their declared performance values and their actual performance behaviors. We have assessed what they do and how they do it at the individual and team levels. What we observe is that most companies are able to agree on values that would produce real results if practiced. What these companies have been unable to achieve for the most part, is a disciplined way to implement them and have them live in the organization. They know “what” to do but not “how” to do it in alignment with their declared values.
As a result, over time, the leadership teams drift further away from their ritually declared values and reach a status quo that keeps them well below their potential performance levels. In other words, nothing really improves. Companies are leaving a lot of value on the table that could be applied to improving the performance of the entire company. But, they do not do the work to understand how performance values actually drive the capabilities of the company to compete, innovate, improvise, and lead significant change. Understanding how performance values can be managed to expand company capabilities may be the most significant learning failure of companies around the world.
If leaders are really interested in building the asset value and competitive capabilities of their companies, they should take the time to learn how to implement and manage the values process. The few organizations that we know to have done this have taken a grass roots approach – bottom up, and top down. They have the right level of SPF (Specific Performance Fundamentals). They have defined their values at behavioral levels that reflect each function. Expected performance values behaviors are clear to each employee from the get go, and they are integrated into each job description, assessment and incentive programs.
Taking performance values operational and turning values into assets of the corporation, requires a strong program of learning and practice, measurement and management. Without this disciplined approach the long lists of declared values and all the posters on office walls will always be empty words and useless business values.