Puzzle Hands

Cultural Values or Business Performance? Choose Both!


As the quest for productivity and performance grows, many organizations are implementing changes they hope will give them an edge over the competition--or at the very least get them through another monthly review or quarterly return. Demands and expectations to deliver results are nothing new (that's business), but the speed and volume of change, and the consequences of the results are escalating quicker than ever before.

As pressures mount, the focus naturally turns to what needs to be done. Leaders often report moving from project to project so quickly and continuously that there is little or no time to think. A casualty in this pressure to deliver is how tasks are done--not the how of skills or procedures, but more importantly the how of aligning tasks, projects, and priorities with the stated cultural values and commitments of the organization.


Communicating cultural values and expectations

The People Productivity Chain™ from i4cp identified 25 KPIs that correlate to market performance and found high-performing organizations to be 3X more likely than low performers to have leaders that support programs and actions that reinforce the shared values of the organization's culture. These organizations and leaders were under no less stress than any others, yet had clearly implemented practices to keep cultural values in mind as they go about their daily work.

What are they doing differently? How can HR assure stronger cultural alignment? What can HR do to emphasize cultural alignment?

Know the company's values, and how to apply them

It's not enough to be able to quote the company's values or have them on the office wall; leaders must know them and apply them when making decisions. For example, Aetna's employees initially resisted the CEO's new business strategy but warmed to it when representative employees at all levels of the company were involved in developing the new strategy and structure. In doing so, the perception of the strategy changed to one that would restore deeply rooted culture traits such as pride in the company and commitment to customers. At the same time, the inclusion of all members in the process reinforced the company's stated value of involving its employees.

It was how the decision was made and implemented more than what was done that made this initiative successful.

Weight the impact on the culture in decision making

In addition to knowing and consistently applying the values of the company, leaders must also weigh the impact of their decisions on the overall culture of the organization. Corporate culture embodies the shared values and beliefs of the company and is the outcome or product of the collective decisions and behaviors of its leaders.

When the behaviors and decisions of leadership consistently match the stated values of the organization, employees are more likely to understand, embrace, and promote those values. Since high-performing organizations were 2X more likely than low performers to have strong shared values that guided behaviors and decisions, leaders must strongly consider the impact on the culture when making decisions.

Ensure that leadership communication and behavior are consistent with culture

In an earlier post, i4cp covered Three Ways to Increase Leadership Communication and the importance of clarity and consistency in team development. Similarly, leadership behavior that is consistent with the stated values and culture of the organization--across different situations and environments--is critical to building trust and engaging employees. And since recent i4cp research on engagement reinforces the importance of employee trust in building performance (read: "Can I Trust You?" Culture, Trust, and Employee Retention), consistent leadership behavior is a necessity.

Knowing the company's values and how to apply them, strongly weighing these values and the impact to the culture when making decisions, and communicating and behaving consistently in ways that embody the company culture are all critical practices that will help leaders enhance their performance and assist their teams during turbulent and stressful times.