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Values Are Universal; Behaviors Are Local

by Derek Irvine

Text treatment of logo for "Think Global, Act Local" CampaignRecognize This! – Corporate values define how an organization will succeed in the marketplace, but the desirable behaviors underlying those values may change depending on local cultural or job-related needs.

In the consulting and strategy work I do with global organizations we strongly advise basing a global social recognition program on the organization’s core values such that all employees, wherever in the world they are located, are demonstrating the same values and associated behaviors that company leadership has determined are critical to organizational success.

And yet, it is also true that what works well in one country does not in another because the culture and the people are different with different expectations and needs. We do not advise changing the core values on a regional or local basis, however. Instead, consider the behaviors that underlie those values. Those behaviors should necessarily change in line with local culture or even job role and needs. How someone in R&D demonstrates the value of “Innovation” is necessarily different than how someone in Accounting might do so, for example.

Why is this important? Here are a couple of real-world stories on the impact.

First, from Raj Kaur-Hooper, HR Engagement Manager, Twinings, in an interview in HRZone:

“The values are a key part to knowing what kind of business you are and therefore what kind of people you want driving your business and in what way. They are up there with the company’s strategy, it’s no different to how we would set out an individual’s planning, development and review (PDR), the values are the ‘how’ in how we get to where we want to be…

“You need to have a clear view of what your values-led behaviours are and make sure that your senior team are role modelling them and are happy to be challenged or picked up on non-values-led behaviour.”

A key element here is having the senior team also demonstrating those values-based behaviors. Leadership must come from the top.

Second, S. Chris Edmonds shared the story of a plant’s efforts to transform from the lowest-performing group within the company to the highest:

“One client came to us because of low employee engagement survey scores. They scored 32 out of 100 possible points, the worst score of the eight business units owned by their corporate parent. This plant’s senior leadership team embraced our culture process fully and promptly.

“They defined values with observable behaviors so everyone – leaders and employees – understood what the rules were for effective daily interactions. They increased performance accountability across their production lines. They measured how well leaders lived the organization’s new valued behaviors. They praised leaders who modeled their values, coached leaders who struggled, and redirected leaders who didn’t model or manage to the new values.

“Within six months, conflicts, absenteeism, re-work, and grievances dropped by 60 percent. Within twelve months, efficiency had improved by over 40 percent. Customers reported amazement at the “new service attitude” that company staff displayed.

“When the next ‘all company’ employee engagement survey came around twelve months later, their plant scored 62 out of 100 points! Theirs was the biggest gain in engagement scores of any of business unit in their company system. And, their plant earned the top score across the organization. At the eighteen-month mark, employee engagement had grown 45 percent, customer service rankings had grown 45 percent, and hard dollar profits gains surpassed 35 percent.”

Values matter. The behaviors underlying those values are equally important. But those underlying behaviors may change based on location, region, or even job function. And that’s good. The over-arching, defining values do not change. How we behave in our jobs to demonstrate those values should flex to our local culture and situation.

What are your organization’s core values? Are the desirable behaviors underlying those values different based on factors such as region or job function? What does that look like in your organization?

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