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Learn why values form the vital foundation of any organization's culture and how to use values to support thriving teams. Here's what the research says…
"Effectiveness without values is a tool without a purpose." —Edward de Bono
When members of an organization are accomplishing meaningful work together from an underlying foundation of shared core values, purpose grows and teams become more effective. Leaders who strengthen Value Congruence and Person-Organization Fit find many benefits from shared Core Values:
When people feel their organization holds strong values and that those values align with personally-held values, commitment to the organization increases15,22. Researchers find that the link between values and commitment is strongest when values center on humanity and vision8; these values include1:
Perceived overlap between organizational and personal values correlates with greater trust, better communication, and stronger attraction to the organization6. Shared Core Values build trust, communication, and affinity because they help to:
Clear shared values and value congruence lower anxiety, work stress, and increase ethical practices17.
Job stress puts people at risk of burnout especially in some types of work. Burnout is a stress syndrome in response to work that includes emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and feelings of diminished personal accomplishment. Improving value congruence and person-organization fit mitigates burnout19.
Researchers find that core values play a key role in predicting both burnout and engagement. When mismatched, core values contribute to burnout and decline, and when organizational and personal values are congruent, they bolster performance and efficacy14.
Researchers find that high levels of Person-Organization fit increase tenure and reduce turnover19. Strong value congruence supports work satisfaction and longevity.
Perceived fit and value congruence impact active job seekers' job preferences—beyond the job's benefits (i.e. rewards, job security)4. Both organizations and job seekers seek people who embrace shared assumptions, beliefs, and values18.
There are two types of performance to consider:
The impact of shared values goes beyond people's attitudes towards their job and their work. Shared values positively influence both task and contextual performance9. Additionally, Person-Organization fit indicates strong contextual performance from employees12.
When it comes to values, authenticity, dialogue, and shared understanding matter. When team members work to articulate important values that relate to important decisions and to align on how to understand and apply those values to their decisions, true alignment and consensus become possible. In contrast, when a team glosses over values at a surface level without building a deeper shared meaning, superficial conformity threatens. This paradox between values fit and conformity creates an ongoing, yet manageable, tension in organizations18. Thinking of values alignment as an ongoing active discussion, and not a destination to take for granted, helps leaders and teams to avoid mindless conformity.
Organizations are most successful at managing this paradox when leaders create an emphasis on values-driven decisions, actions, and interactions and help people feel comfortable expressing deeply held values as a driver for choices and proposals. When values are central and openly expressed, people make more meaningful contributions:
The dark side of the shared values paradox is conformity. Leaders who shape values tightly and direct behavior with no flexibility or continuing dialogue create situations where employees conform to a façade, rather than a deeply held and authentically shared set of beliefs. Conformity18 leads to:
Unfortunately, only 27% of employees strongly agree that they believe in their company's values, and 23% of employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization's values to their work every day5. Leaders can enable teams to thrive using stories to bring Core Values to life and cultivate an environment to discuss, debate, share, and align around Core Values and sustain high-impact performance.
Researchers use two measurable concepts to reveal the overlap of values in organizations:
If Person-Organization Fit is high, Value Congruence also tends to be high. When people find a match between their values and their organization's values, they believe they are a good fit for the organization22. Research also shows:
Listen to Bob Keiller on how Core Values enhanced his team's performance and his organization's growth.
"Great stories happen to those who can tell them." —Ira Glas
Stories reveal how values are expressed in daily work and how values have created defining moments in the organization's history—and ignite pride in shared core values18. Leaders who gather stories and promote values-based story sharing find their organization's values come to life; stories provide meaningful evidence of Core Values, uplift people, motivate teams, bind us together, and help set models to guide decisions, behavior, and relationships.
|Setting and Characters||The time, place, context, and key players of the story|
|Build-up||A sequence of events that leads to the high point of the story|
|Crisis or Climax||The key event / high point / or moment of truth within the story|
|Learning / Growth||What the key players learned|
|New Behavior or Awareness||How things are different / How the organization changed|
Stories reinforce core values by highlighting an actively present force in the organization's actions, interactions, and decisions. Stories capture those moments that prove the organization’s values are not just empty words on the wall or website.
To gather values stories, simply ask people, "When have we proven that we believe in this principle?" Reflect on the stories—and add yours. Listen to what has struck and stuck with people.
Stories about peoples' contributions to the organization's integrity and culture send a strong message13. There's a direct boost of recognition for team members that empowers and affirms their efforts.
Tell stories that recognize people for upholding core values. The affirmation of stories motivates others to work to create future stories.
Reinforcing core values with stories is an engaging way to reflect on what's happening to support or undermine core values.
Leaders can influence all levels and invite team members to contribute to shaping culture through their stories. Storytelling brings everyone together as learners, leaders, and collaborators. Members of the organization who see themselves as authoring stories take more active roles20.
Ask team members to share how core values impact their daily work. Recognize that all team members co-create the organization's story.
Stories can fuel decision-making and guide people in making their contributions. Sharing stories helps make Core Values come to life and shape the future20.
In planning and strategy discussions:
- Take some time to craft stories that align with core values.
- Emphasize the importance of core values.
- Share how you imagine things.
- Engage people to imagine the future.
- Work together to identify core values connections.
Use the resulting stories to fuel operational decisions about what each person or team needs to contribute to make the story a reality19.
The biggest threat to Core Values is complacency. Once formed and established, it’s important to question and discuss Core Values as an integral part of decision-making and culture18. Leaders have an important role—model Core Values in action and guide team members throughout the organization to continue to engage Core Values in meaningful ways.
As social learning theory explains, people actively (and passively) observe others, and our observations influence our behaviors and choices. Take an active role in guiding employees' behavior through what you model in your decisions, actions, and relationships and your contributions to the organization's story2.
Listen here to a resort hotel CEO describing the power of storytelling.