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Posted on May 13, 2016

How to Align Culture and Values

How to Align Culture and Values

Someone recently asked me, “What’s the difference between values and culture?” Good question.

Here was my response:

Relevant and meaningful values set the strategic direction of an organization, and influence the culture by establishing expected behaviors. The opposite is not true.

A question of alignmentWhen the stated values of an organization are unique, relevant, and sustainable, AND decisions and behaviors support these values, then values and culture are aligned.

But if decisions and behaviors occur that are not aligned with the values, then the culture is not yet aligned either. When this happens employees (and customers) view the values as fake and worthless.

Additionally, all organizations have a culture (good and not-so-good), which generally reflects what the people in power value. But not all organizations have well-defined or even stated values. (Note: when leaders reject the idea of having stated values it’s often because it means they have to give up some of their power).

In spite of the difference, the question remains: How can culture be aligned with the values?

Aligning Culture and Values

There are four key items required to align culture and values:

  1. Everyone is impacted. Values need to be integrated into every level of the organization, from C-Level executives to sales, marketing, operations, HR, and even to part-time employees. They also need to be incorporated into the hiring process, as well as the process for firing or reprimanding an employee and/or contractor.
  2. People held accountable. The most effective method is when employees keep each other accountable (i.e. when one employee says to another “You might like to do that, but you can’t do that here!”). Leaders then need to acknowledge and reward good behavior, and correct or reprimand individuals when they violate the stated values (this applies to the leaders as well!).
  3. Ongoing communication. Values need to be clearly defined and reinforced through multiple mediums, such as:
    • The company’s website, including the About page and Careers page.
    • The code of Business Conduct document(s).
    • The organization’s Annual Report.
    • Corporate Sustainability Reports.
    • Employee handbooks and onboarding documents.
    • Posters in meeting rooms to remind employees of the stated values.
  4. Visible in marketing. Stated values need to be incorporated in an organization’s marketing and promotional activities, specifically in the messaging. This way not only employees know what they are expected to deliver but customers know what they can expect to receive (e.g. how Volvo promotes its key differentiating value of safety).

Bottom line: Aligning culture and values is about aligning employee behavior with the organization’s key priorities. The best way to ensure everyone shares the same priorities is to have people who share the same values.