Purpose and Values are strongly interlinked. The definition of “values” could be summarised as: what is important to us, what we value. They are a shorthand method for describing our needs and our inner motivations.

Our values are revealed in what we believe and in what triggers our emotional responses, be they positive or negative. We reveal our values through our behaviours and actions. Our sense of purpose flows from our values.

For organisations, values are the key to unlocking potential for greater impact and performance.

If we can understand what people value individually and how they experience their current organisation, we can understand to what extent they can bring “their full selves to work”. 

Ideally there is sufficient overlap of individual needs to organisational reality, and this translates into happy and engaged employees.  This is what we would describe as a healthy culture (since culture is the sum of the values and behaviours of the group.)  Such organisations do exist and sometimes by good fortune as much as design. 

The reality for many though is that potential is blocked by limiting factors and energy that could otherwise go into producing positive outcomes is depleted by “stuff that gets in the way”. 

Here are a few common blockers, you will probably be able to add some more:

Silo Mentality – Withholding of Information – Bureaucracy – Greed – Blame – Excessive Controls.

Over time, these limiting factors, if they become too excessive and are not tackled can strangle the healthy development and growth of an organisation as much as tangleweed kills healthy plants in your garden. The boundless positive energy of new people keen to create a difference is slowly eroded.  The impact of not actively managing culture cannot be underestimated.

According to research conducted by Duke and Columbia Universities, 85% of CEOs and CFOs believe that “a poorly implemented, ineffective culture increases the chance that an employee might act unethically or even illegally.”

So, what are the leaders of organisations to do if they want to make sure people keep on coming to work happy, engaged and contributing to their best? 

First and foremost, they need to care.  To care about their staff and their stakeholders, enough to want to make them all happy.  And to see how their own values and behaviours affect outcomes (consciously or not.)

Here at Global Business Leaders, we use a values-based approach to developing powerful, future-fit organisations. 

This means defining a destination that is anchored in the present. Starting with an organisation-wide health check is a way of making sure you do this.  A very simple survey that brings a depth of insight is the Cultural Values Assessment from the Barrett Values Centre. 

The 3 questions ask you to choose from a list of value/behaviour words those that best reflect

  1.  Who you are.
  2. How your organisation currently operates.
  3. What you think is important for your organisation to reach its highest potential.

By inviting all staff to respond, you make sure that everyone can express their voice and feels part of the ensuing work. 

The survey is just the starting point for organisation-wide participation through dialogue and discovery to establish which few inspirational value words can best capture where the organisation should ideally be heading (and what needs tackling in the current culture to get there.)

Many organisations large and small have benefited from taking such an approach.  Even nations such as Sweden and Latvia have conducted this survey and come to define unifying values that continue to guide their citizenship. The chosen values are then embedded in strategy and policies and provide guidance for a whole range of citizen activities.

Why does values at work, work?

At its core is the fact that we trust people who share our values.

Commonalities unite, differences divide.

If we can agree on what we have in common, by entering into dialogue and listening deeply, we can bridge many cultural differences, whether these are national, professional, through age, or gender or race.

Universal values such as friendship, acceptance, service to others dissolve many boundaries.

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