Recognise This! – Employees will follow your lead on what you truly value based on what you recognise and reward.

Frequent readers of my blog know how I feel about company values and their influence on the culture of the organisation. Ann Rhoades, president of PeopleInk and a founding executive of JetBlue (whose values are a topic of praise and a mini case study in our book Winning with a Culture of Recognition) wrote an entire book on the topic: Built on Values: Creating an Enviable Culture that Outperforms the Competition. She gave some highlights in a recent Smartblog post, saying:

    “Just by looking at the behaviour of leaders, you can tell what the values of a company really are. And all too often, those lived values bear almost no resemblance to the stated values — those lofty statements painted on the walls or sanctified in a mission statement. … Your values will be perceived as hollow and meaningless unless you base compensation and rewards on expressions of the behaviours that go along with the values.”

I couldn’t agree more. Regardless of the STATED values, it’s the TOLERATED values around which the culture is formed. Making the stated values and the tolerated values one and the same is possible through strategic employee recognition – structuring your recognition and rewards programme such that:

1) Every recognition given is linked tightly (and with a detailed message about how and why) to a company value demonstrated. — "Ann, great job on the MacGuffin project. The way you rallied everyone from multiple parts of the organisation to pull together a comprehensive, detailed response embodies what we mean by ‘Teamwork.’ I’m sure your efforts will be the linchpin to our winning this business."

2) Such recognition is given frequently — It doesn’t do Ann any good to be reminded of her achievement a year later in her performance review or at the annual banquet if she barely remembers the MacGuffin project. If your goal is to encourage frequent repetition of such actions — make it memorable in the moment!

3) Such recognition is given to 80-90% of employees, not just the top 10% of elite — Far more than your top 10% are working hard every day to deliver the results you need. You must encourage all of them to repeat the actions and behaviours you’ve defined as necessary for success. In fact, research shows focussing on the top 20% is “a corrosive approach that discourages cooperation and initiative.” (Workspan magazine, December 2010, membership required)

Tell me about your company culture. Do the company values as stated mean anything?