Every modern organization has cultural values that outline the type of culture and behaviors the CEO and his or her senior executives want to drive in their organization.
The CEO and senior team are typically the ones who stand on the stage and share the values. Most CEOs only mention the values a few times a year in the formal company-wide events. In many cases, this happens because their human resource leader or communications manager adds it in their presentation deck.
Some CEOs really care about the values. They see them as their personal endeavor; perhaps the legacy they want to leave behind them. These CEOs find any opportunity to mention, repeat and reference the values in day-to-day business conversations; when they criticize, coach or discipline their people, as well as when they recognize and praise them.
Everyone in the company knows where their CEO and his or her senior team stand regarding the values. They know if the values are merely another corporate slogan the senior team pays lip service to, or if the CEO and his/her team take them personally and they are sincerely passionate about them and committed to driving them. It’s easy to tell by watching actions, not words.
I was working with a CEO who was very passionate about the values of his company. Everywhere he went in the company, in all meetings and calls he would bring up the values in some relevant business context. When a product didn’t meet the deadline of being released to the market and he found out that the teams that were supposed to collaborate in order to get it done didn’t do a good job, he made a big stink about people not living the collaboration value. When his leaders would come to him to complain about other leaders he would coach them in the context of living the value of ownership. And, when the sales team overcame big challenges and achieved a great outcome at the end of the quarter he went out of his way to show everyone how it was because people were living the ‘we get it done‘ value.
Everyone knew that the values were the CEO personal pet peeve. People respected it, but more importantly, everyone felt compelled to get on board with the CEO and make the values the company’s norm. They were very successful at it.
Unfortunately, in so many companies the CEO and his or her team are the biggest offenders of living the values.
To state the obvious, if the values are Teamwork and Ownership and everyone can see that the senior leaders are highly political and siloed people will roll his or her eyes at the values. If the values are Candor and Transparency and people are afraid to give the senior leaders feedback and bad news because they won’t take it well, people will be cynical about the values.
Judging by their behavior, it seems that many executives think that they can drive the values by standing on a stage once or twice a year and saying all the fancy slogans with gusto and then going back to their day-to-day lives with minimal attention to the values until the next big fanfare. Nothing is further from the truth!
If the CEO wants to create a new culture based on values such as: Collaboration, Personal Responsibility, Excellence, Innovation and Care, he or she has to:
- Make these values a priority as high as achieving the revenues or profitability numbers of the company.
- Put in place the same robust programs, routines, incentives and practices to continuously promote, foster, reward, nurture and sustain the desired behaviors.
- Establish the same level of inspection touch-points to ensure clear changes and improvements are being made.
Making the values a part of the culture is an ongoing process and journey, not an event. It takes dedication and work. It definitely won’t be achieved by reciting slogans!
To the CEO and his or her senior leaders I would offer the following advice:
If you want your people to live the values, live them yourselves!