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Derek Irvine


Senior Vice President of Global Strategy

Read more about Derek Irvine

Blog: Making the abstract real – Living workplace values


Recognise This! – Your company values do you no good unless employees know how to live them in their daily work.

I think it’s a fairly safe bet to say most companies today have defined set of core values – behaviors and ideals the executive team has invested a good deal of time and effort in defining as the “how” of employee efforts as they work to complete the “what” (results/deliverables).
There is a very great difference, however, in having values, knowing the values and actually living the values in your daily work.
Having Values
What do I mean by having the values? I’m sure many of have worked in (or are currently working in) organisations that require you to carry the company values around as part of your building access badge. Or perhaps you received the values in the employee handbook when you first started with the company.
“Employee engagement and [recognition] programmes are designed to induce behaviours in employees that will help you grow the business. Running alongside this, you have ‘values’ – a set of shared beliefs that you wish to instil throughout the organisation. They are not one and the same thing."
However, at Kohl’s, many years ago, gratitude was shown by rewarding employees with rubber bracelets. There would be four bracelets in total – your aim was to achieve a full set, each one representing one of the company’s values.
It was viewed by many as cheap, and nobody wore them. Kohl’s simply wasted their money by having the rubber bands made in the first place, and created a feeling within the workforce that they were cheap.
Not only were employees somewhat insulted by the gesture, since they didn’t even wear the bracelets it’s unlikely they could even be said to “have” the values.
Knowing the Values
Knowing the values, but not living them, is no better.
An example of this comes to us from the Chief Happiness Officer blog, in which author Alexander Kjerulf shared this quote from a recent conference he attended: "You know a corporate values programme is doomed to fail when they start printing mouse mats with the values." – Henrik Burkal, CEO of REMA1000 Denmark.
Sure, you can require employees to recite the values to you when they see you in the hall. But reciting them doesn’t mean the individual knows what each of those values looks like in his or her own daily work. Think about a common company value of “integrity.”
A worthy value, indeed, but very abstract. This needs to be made real for employees.
One client of ours helps to make this abstract value real for their employees by specifically recognising and praising them for doing things they might have been punished for in the past.
For example: “Steve, thank you for reporting the broken equipment in a timely way. This allowed us to get it repaired and back on-line quickly. You showed great integrity by taking responsibility for the break, communicating to the team how you think such breakage can be avoided in the future, and enabling us all to get back up and running.”
If you want your employees to live your values every day, then make them real. Recognise and reward them – and let them recognise and reward each other – whenever the values are being demonstrated through the work.
Do your employees have your values, know your values, or truly live your values? Do you?
Derek Irvine is senior vice president of global strategy at Globoforce.
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Derek Irvine

Senior Vice President of Global Strategy

Read more from Derek Irvine

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