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I don’t think I have ever met a leader that wasn’t serious about his or her intent to communicate the organization’s values. There it was on the list of what a leader must stand for, and the intent is admirable. It is the execution of the intent and the follow up behaviours that cause concern.

So here is an example of how NOT to do it. The CEO of this organization decided that a new set of values was essential for the business. His reasoning was based on feedback from the staff survey, poor communication skills of manager’s, a general lack of trust, a perceived lack of focus on the customer, both within the organization and externally.

An external consultant was called in to facilitate a values session with the senior management at an off site retreat. There was plenty of white paper, robust discussion and at the of the day they all agreed on the values and pledged that they would now walk the talk and display the values in their working day. These values were the usual, in this case Customer Focus was central and other themes were honesty in our communication with others, trust in the people we work with, teamwork is how we work, open communication and so on.

So then the employee communication team was called in and were asked to design a communication strategy around this. Posters were produced and framed, the usual graphics had the central value with the others around this, a booklet was printed and distributed to all employees and each manager was given the task of conducting a values workshop with their teams. The way this worked each group picked a value and then worked on what they thought the organization was doing well about this value and what could be improved. Many hours were spent on this and then they reported back to the whole team.

So far so good. And that was it. Nothing else ever happened, no-one ever heard anything else about the values workshops, the CEO ticked it off his list, a job done, employees were engaged because they participated in workshops right? Wrong.

In fact this process caused more headaches than anything else. This organization went on to restructure, downsize and expected employees to work longer hours and do more with less. The senior managers began to panic about their job security so they became more withdrawn rather than open and honest, the focus was on budgets and not the customer and the values became a talking point amongst employees for what they did not stand for.

This is how it could have been improved.

Once the value workshops were over then the information collated from the teams could have been discussed by selected employees and then the ideas for improvement could have been communicated face to face via managers to staff using team briefings. Each team could have been required to monitor the impact of those improvements and to build on those and measure the impact either via sales in the case of the customer, or via the staff survey in the case of employees, here I am talking about topics such as open and honest communication, teamwork and so on.

Engaging employees in the process of change by communicating a new set of organizational values only works if you construct strategy that is directly integrated with the work that they do. And most importantly you need to measure the impact of those activities. It is only by doing this that you bring values to life and real change to an organization.

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