One of the things that confounds me the most about the conversations that take place around values, brand and culture, is the assumption people make about values and their relationship to ethics, or to popular positive behavioral constructs. It’s a fairly common view.
Take this following exchange as an example.
— Jeff Turner (@jeffturner) February 10, 2014
— Jeff Turner (@jeffturner) February 11, 2014
When I say values, people hear ethics. Some of you reading this right now are probably even thinking, “yeah, and…”
And… while I think the world would be a better place if everyone’s values were ethical, or moral, or wholly positive in nature, they are not. And… for values-based leadership to be effective, the values don’t have to be any of those things. The effectiveness of a values-based approach is not dependent on how closely the values align with society’s moral constructs, or popular beliefs around how people “should” behave.
The effectiveness of a values-based approach is dependent on the following:
- whether the values are clearly defined by the organization,
- whether the values can be articulated by members of the organization,
- whether the values are integrated into how the organization does business,
- whether the values consistently help the organization achieve it’s goals,
- whether the values are consistently experienced by those outside of the organization, and…
- whether and how people are held accountable for living the Values.
For years and years, Italian-American crime families were held together by a set of core values that essentially extended the values typically associated with “kinship” beyond blood bonds. Many of these values were not “moral” in nature or in their outcome, especially those surrounding secrecy involving all things legal or illegal. But they were clearly articulated, members of the organization knew exactly what they were, their business was run by those values and anyone who did business with them could see them lived out in their actions. And, most importantly from a business success standpoint, those who did not live the values were held accountable by paying the ultimate price. And those who lived the values without fail were rewarded.
The values were not simply talked. They were lived. Unwavering accountability ultimately was the key to their success in the organization. Nobody was above the values. Nobody got a pass – until those values began to break down. Some historians believe that the breakdown of these “families” is in large part a result of the acceptance and integration of modern American family and business values. As these new values encroached on the organization, they broke down the once unwavering commitment and authority of the values that solidified those “families.”
In her book, The Business Of Organized Crime, Annelise Graebner Anderson points out these arguments in the the works of Francis Ianni. “Ianni predicts that utilitarian values – ability rather than ascribed status – will become increasingly important within organized crime familes,” she writes, “and will ultimately lead to a business structure that is more bureaucratic and more like American business corporations.” Further she clarified that Ianni believed that the weakening of the values related to kinship in Italian-American families would contribute to the weakening of their previously strong crime families.
The strength of the organization was found in a strong, clear, consistently lived set of core values. And these values were led from the top of the organizational structure all the way to the bottom. The strength was not based in the ethical or moral nature of those values. This is an important distinction that often gets lost in translation.
Your stated values become powerful only when they are aligned with your actions. Corporations who try to align their values with accepted, positive moral constructs do themselves a disservice if those values are not actually lived inside the organization. If people are not rewarded for living them, or held accountable for not living them.
Example: Don’t be tempted to say, “we value work/life balance” because you think it will motivate employees when your company reward structures are designed to compensate people who value overtime instead of family time. There is no power in that. It would be more powerful to say this,:”We value sacrifice. We believe hard work is the greatest virtue and that it often comes at a price. That price is 100% commitment to the organization and its goals. If you’re willing to pay that price, you will be rewarded greatly.” You’ll attract people who want exactly that. Your turnover will likely be high, but the result might be stellar. That’s not moral. That’s not immoral. That’s just a clear statement of what you really value.
Ultimately, the power behind a values-based approach to business lies is in leadership’s ability to insure that the values are lived by every person in the organization. If people aren’t held accountable to the values, they have no power. That has nothing to do with whether living them points to an ethical or unethical outcome.
Featured image credit: MsSaraKelly