Values: To manage or to nurture?
‘The organisation that is nurturing a set of values gives the people within it a chance to develop their own set of tools.’
A good friend of mine is part of the stakeholder team for a large multinational – he recently asked me to outline [based on my experience with large brands] the best way to manage internal stakeholders’ values? Why would you want to? I asked in return. ‘That’s what we’ve always tried to do’, he replied. I was curious to learn if their approach had worked. Had trying to manage his colleagues’ values seen any benefits? In his opinion there had not been any real benefits. Whilst there had been short term gains, nothing seemed sustainable and everything appeared to be transient. In other words, it hadn’t worked..
So why had a complex organisation put so much time and effort into something that consistently did not work?
For me, this is as much a practical question as a philosophical one. If a leadership team have the desire to develop the right culture, their staff will need autonomy and freedom in the workplace. Autonomy to grow within their roles and freedom to own their jobs and outputs. Trying to manage values seems to be the antithesis of this, a draconian approach that limits and reduces cultures down to processes, ultimately clamping down on the very ownership one would wish to promote and nurture.
To manage something means to supervise or to be in charge of. In the context of values this might equate to a top down approach that crowds out an individual’s ability to assimilate how they can best serve an organisation and vice versa.
Whilst it may appear proper and correct to manage the values of an organisation, it is quite another to attempt to manage the values of an individual. Herein lies another issue – organisations in themselves are inanimate and therefore unable to have ‘values’, however, organisations are made up of people, and these people are able to assign values to the organisation. In short, if you’re managing the values of an organisation you are, by proxy, managing the values of a set of individuals.
The situation becomes much more acute when you apply this to a multinational. Can a set of ‘western’ values be applied to other offices around the world? Again, in this context, the notion of managing values creates a set of problems that creates the very environment a set of values are supposed to reduce.
For us at Brands with Values we think the solution is around nurturing rather than managing. This isn’t an exercise in semantics – they are radically different approaches.
The organisation that is nurturing a set of values gives the people within it a chance to develop their own set of tools to not only deal with how these values apply to themselves but to inform the inevitable change an organisation must go through. Conversely, the organisation that manages values won’t have the same adaptability, the workforce will simply be benchmarking their own ideals against the corporate mantra. Worst still, they may see the values as merely mantra and not an inherent part of a culture they wish to experience or inform.
Taking the multinational as an example again, the nurturing organisation will look to local ambassadors to understand and apply the values to offices at a local level, giving the leadership team a chance to evaluate the success of its engagement. Once again, best practice will see that the learnings from one culture being applied to another – this diversity becomes an advantage rather than an issue.
Focus on the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’.
The nurturing organisation understands that the very way in which values are communicated is a reflection of the values you wish to promote. There needs to be a clear signpost to the kind of culture, supported by behaviours, that they wish to reach. Focusing on the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’ gives a much richer, more inclusive experience which can allow each employee to wear the values authentically – that’s when the magic can happen.
In summary, an organisation that sets out to ‘manage’ the values of its employees may have the wrong mindset, a mindset linked to doing business in the past. Having a set of values as a benchmark that can be managed isn’t what works anymore, nurturing a set of values that can grow with the organisation is.
As organisations move to a more holistic view of their systems and a longer view of their impact on society and planet, we can see a growing number of nurturing organisations. These organisations are at the forefront of business innovation but there is much to do. The vast majority of businesses are now in a position where they need to release the notions of supervising values and create more intuitive systems that hold a set of principles that can be applied at every level of the organisation. To become a nurturing organisation requires listening, training communication and more listening. Above all the nurturing organisation must embed the very essence of what it is trying to achieve to tangibly demonstrate the best practice it wishes to plant.
To learn more about how we measure values and culture contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org