Do Your Corporate Culture and Values Align? It’s Time to Take a Fresh Look

The concepts of organizational culture and the values of an organization can be hard to pin down. Culture is often one of those fuzzy, I-know-it-when-I-see-it things that leadership likes to talk about, but no one can really define. And that’s a problem because a company’s culture, and the values that provide its underpinning, really do define that company to its own staff and to the marketplace. That culture will not be effective if there’s a disconnect between the two.

The difference between culture and values

Are culture and values sort of the same thing? No, although they’re closely related, or should be. Culture is a collection of norms and expectations that determine a group’s behavior. Organizational culture encompasses a company’s values, but also incorporates other elements including leadership, communication and employee empowerment. There’s much disagreement on how many components there are to culture, and exactly what they are, but just about every list includes a company’s values.

Simply put, values are why your company does what it does. A well-crafted set of values is easy for employees to get behind. Conversely, values that are inconsistent can act as a hindrance to alignment with company culture.

Aligning values with culture

Your values can’t align with your culture if you don’t know what those values are. Common values include integrity, transparency and accountability, but depending on your organization you might include others like curiosity, altruism or innovation. Defining these values is critical, and a great opportunity to include employees in the process. That in itself can go a long way towards an improved culture.

A frequent problem is that an organization will articulate its values, perhaps in a carefully crafted mission statement, hang it on the wall and forget about it. Needless to say, that’s not an ideal way to align values with culture.

If you’re not sure whether culture and values are aligned in your own organization, here’s a handy test: If each employee can not only define the company’s culture and values, but can articulate how their own role contributes to those values, you’re probably on the right path. Put another way, in an aligned organization employees can not only define the company culture but practice it daily.

Fixing misalignment

If that scenario doesn’t describe your organization, there are steps you can take to bring values and culture into alignment. As noted above, you can ask your team what they think the company’s values are, or should be. Ask also how they feel their own roles contribute to those values.

Have the courage to ask questions you might not want the answers to, also. Specifically, ask your team where the disconnects are … which company policies and procedures work against organizational values and culture. And then act on that feedback.

If that research brings to light certain values that aren’t being realized, start planning activities to address those shortcomings. For example, if a company value is ‘teamwork’ but employees report not knowing their co-workers very well, a retreat with team-building activities might be in order.

It’s also vital to consider values as new team members are added. In today’s competitive talent environment, it’s tempting to find the resumé that checks the right boxes and hire away. Make sure your interviewing process considers cultural fit as well as skill sets.

As noted above, values aren’t something to be defined once and then immortalized on a plaque. They need to be communicated consistently by leadership, and it should go without saying that leadership behavior should reinforce those values.

Finally, the old leadership axiom about ‘catching people doing something right’ applies here as well. When you see an employee taking action that supports company values, recognize and reward that action. Employees are far more likely to repeat behaviors that are positively reinforced, and the knowledge that their efforts are appreciated will in itself contribute to an improved culture.