Organizational Values

Every organization worth its salt has three things in copybook fashion: Vision, Mission and Values. While the Vision and Mission do have a lot which is laid out in concrete terms, let’s turn our attention to the amorphous term called “Values”.

Every new joinee is told with utmost seriousness “we live by our values, and you are supposed to embody these values in everything you do”.

So far so good. Now, does this translate on to the ground?

All organizations want to be known for their Values system, and wax eloquent anout how their employees embody those values; and almost all value systems read alike! Semantics may differ, but in the end all will be talking about five or six  of the following concepts-

  • respect and dignity for all
  • spirit of innovation
  • diversity at the workplace / non– discrimination
  • speed of execution
  • spirit of teamwork
  • responsiveness
  • going the extra mile / customer-oriented
  • honesty / integrity
  • fairness
  • can-do attitude / result oriented / entrepreneurial spirit
  • never-say-die spirit

Missed anything? Isn’t this what your own organization also talks about, perhaps in different words?

Values are supposed to be in place to guide organizations and all employees and Top Management in all that they do. They are supposed to be particularly important in difficult situations. And they are supposed to be completely non-negotiable, despite business compulsions, else they will be meaningless!

Junior staff are actually held accountable for them, and are extremely likely to fare poorly in appraisal cycles or increments if they have been found wanting in any of the Values. But what of the Top Management?

Difficult times… hmmm? What can be more difficult than when the Top Management feels the organization is facing an existential crisis?

So litmus test: if the values do hold water, can an organization just issue pink slips to its unsuspecting employees in hard times – many of them may have been assured just a short while back “don’t worry, things are all right with us and don’t think of leaving”… Out of the window go the values of “treat people with respect“, “fairness” and “maintain dignity of the individual” when top management has to go for tough decisions, because staff are kept in the dark till the last moment and in most cases not even given time to react. Such actions are justified by reasons like “this is what is best for the organization” or “There is no other option left”. But the acid test of any Values system is during hard times, isn’t it?  Isn’t top management supposed to embody the values of the organization and shouoldn’t somebody be there to hold top management accountable for such breaches of the values system? 

Let’s take the spirit of innovation: Innovation by its very definition is something which is a change from what is usual, and might also challenge existing policies and processes..In most cases, what do you think happens to the junior level person who tries to suggest changes in the “way we do things around here”? And if people are supposed to conform to norms at all times, the only person who will ever innovate will be a person with a lenient or perceptive Boss or skip Boss who may also be willing to defend her or project her favorably.. which brings us to the usefulness of the value of “non-discrimination”. It is so dependent on your Boss. You have bad bosses, you go nowhere but out of the company!! 

Honesty and Integrity: Bribing officials to get work done (“do what is necessary”), fudged data, personal favors extended to officials looking after certain POs which the Comapany desperately wants to land etc. are all par for the course for most corporates etc are all par for the course for most corporates. Taking personal favors from vendors is also rampant, and since these people generally ‘get things done’, so the Top Management will often turn a blind eye to such things, or worse, may even be complicit in such dealings. These will never be acknowledged, of course, so don’t even think about anybody admitting to such things. Its only when somebody is caught in the act that such dealings ever come to light. 

So, whither Values? Isn’t even professing to live by such a set of values itself a betrayal of these values?? Is this an outdated concept whose time has come for it to be thrown out? Hand over heart, what has been your experience on this? Let us know in the comments!

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