Are Employees Confused About the Values You Want Them to Follow?

I’ve written a good bit recently on corporate culture, first on building a magnetic culture, then on creating a solid, single culture after M&A.

But what is culture? I like the simple definition: Culture is what happens when the boss isn’t looking.

A positive culture in which employees are focused and productive, behaving in ways the organization wants while delivering on strategic objectives (which is the definition of employee engagement, by the way), does not happen by accident. As Chris Edmonds recently explained in SmartBrief on Leadership:

“Organizational cultures that are consistently high performing AND values-aligned do not happen casually — they happen intentionally. The leaders of these organizations understand that they must effectively manage employees’ heads, hearts and hands — not just one of those three. Leaders that focus on performance alone typically see their role as managing employees’ hands, not employees’ heads and hearts, as well.

“These organizations create a workplace culture where employees do the right things — using their heads, hearts AND hands — even when the boss isn’t around.

“[Ken] Blanchard’s experience and research identified the single foundational component of high performing, ‘great places to work’ organizational cultures. That differentiating component: values alignment, driven by senior leaders.”

Do employees follow stated or tolerated values?

But, as I’ve written before, employees can be confused by which values they are supposed to be living – the stated values or the tolerated values. One would hope the two types of values are one and the same, but all too often, organizations say one thing on the values plaque hanging on the wall, while leadership demonstrates (or tolerates) another.

On, Dan Schroeder explained this in terms of three culture variables:

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“Espoused values: What does the organization say it believes? What are the vision, mission, and values elements that have been articulated and promulgated?

“Artifacts/symbols/actions: What are the tangible representations that tell people what the organization values? What behaviors are reinforced? Which ones are punished? Who gets rewarded and promoted? On what basis? And so on.

“Assumptions: What unspoken truths (real or perceived) are held by organizational members including, importantly, the organization’s top leaders?”

The best way to uncover these unspoken truths and reward those you want to see (your stated values) and stop rewarding those you don’t (your tolerated values) is to implement a strategic employee recognition program that overtly and quite clearly recognizes and rewards employees based on your core, stated values. When detailed messages of praise are included and publicized (such as through an internal Social Recognition newsfeed), other employees begin to see what is most desired and appreciated in the organization.

Do your employees know what values you want to see delivered in the daily work? Are your stated and tolerated values one and the same?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


1 Comment on “Are Employees Confused About the Values You Want Them to Follow?

    The issue here is that while many organisations have conducted a value exercise and published a list of values that they wish to adopt, it lacks credibility. By that I mean employers expect employees to adopt values they aren’t willing to adopt themselves. This undermines the values and they fail to thrive and develop into the cultural norm.
    Leaders have to live by the values they wish to impose, do as I say and not as I do, just isn’t good enough. 

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