Employee problems? Your company core values may be to blame

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by | Jun 2, 2020

By Polaris MEP Partner, John Boudreau, Envisionable

I’ve noticed that employee problems at small businesses can often be traced to the same source – the company’s core values.

Let me explain.

The other day I received a call from a manufacturer. He was worried that employees – though up to this point complying with coronavirus safety protocols – might stop following the new guidelines.

Whether it’s COVID-19 or any other practice, when someone in the organization is not doing what is expected of them, that behavior is driven by an individual’s core values.

But when you dig a bit deeper, this behavior problem can also be attributed to one of two drivers:

  1. Your company’s core values have not been defined, so the offending behavior is accepted. In other words, the expectations around what behavior is acceptable have not been defined.
  2. Your company’s core values have been defined, but no one takes them seriously. They are not communicated or used as a way to align behavior.

Corporate core values can have a massive impact on your company.

What Are a Company’s Core Values?

The Brickle Groups core values are featured on their website.

Let’s start with the basics. What are core values? They are the central, or foundational, standards of behavior.

Everyone has core values, and what you may consider an acceptable standard of behavior, another person may not. You cannot force your core values on others.

So what about a company’s core values?

Once you’ve defined your company’s core values, you can use these as a way to define and identify the people you are looking to assemble. You want people who share the same values. Many companies include value statements on their website, to assist in recruiting.

How Do Core Values Benefit a Company?

It should be easy to see how having a clear set of company core values can help drive alignment of behavior within a company. Let me give you an example from the movie “The Founder.”

The movie details the story of how McDonald’s originated. It portrays Ray Kroc and the brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald as having different core values.

In an effort to increase profit, Kroc wants to begin offering milkshakes made from a powdered mix rather than real ice cream. The McDonald brothers are strongly opposed to doing so. The tension between the three builds until Kroc finally buys the two brothers out.

Kroc and the McDonald brothers did not have the same core values when it came to how quality was defined. This is why it is absolutely critical that ownership have the same core values. This cannot be assumed.

Core values help the organization to make decisions and move faster. When core values are not agreed upon, they slow things down and cause conflict. Company core values prevent debates and arguments from occurring.

How Do You Define Your Company’s Core Values?

Here is an exercise I’ve used in the past.

  1. Identify five people in your company who you would point to as an employee who “gets it.”
  2. Write down the top three to five characteristics of that star employee. What are the fundamental behaviors that this employee exhibits on a day-to-day basis?
  3. Develop a list of your top 10 to 15 core values.
  4. Rank order the core values.
  5. Pick the top five core values.
  6. Add a description to the core value. For example, one of our core values is “alignment.” If we were only to say our core value is “alignment,” it could be interpreted several different ways. To drive greater clarity, we define what we mean by alignment.

How Do You Maintain Your Company’s Core Values?

“[Our core values] guide our company processes and practices.”

Back to that call I received from the manufacturer. I reassured him I did not believe he’d have “employee problems” with new COVID protocols because his company corporate values have always been clearly defined and reinforced.

Frequently remind your team what your core values are. Tie successes and good behavior back to the core values. Ensure the management team lives up to the core values, and hold people accountable.

Even if not defined, your company currently has a culture – a set of core values. This culture may not be explicitly stated, but it still exists.

If you’re not careful, the culture can evolve in a direction that you do not want. As you grow, it becomes more and more difficult to directly control.

When you maintain commitment to your company values, it pays off in fewer “employee problems” in all situations, no matter how extreme.

John Boudreau is CEO of Envisionable. Interested in process improvement or having a consultation with Polaris MEP resource partner John Boudreau? Contact us at info@polarismep.org.

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