The Role Individual Values Play in Workplace Culture and Why Leaders Should Care
We’ve long understood that corporate values have a direct impact on creating company culture, which is why organizations put extensive effort into defining and deploying value statements. However, leaders often overlook the impact that individual employee values have on culture. Look no further than the millennial generation to see how individuals can shift culture. Generally speaking, millennials bring a focus on social responsibility, diversity and inclusion and work-life balance with them into the workplace and smart companies are changing to meet these expectations.
Taking it a step further, we’ve all known department heads who run their areas like tiny kingdoms, sometimes against corporate values. To quote a friend who works in this situation, “I know the company says it values work-life balance but that simply doesn’t apply to my department. No, my boss values work ethic, which translates into very long hours and company dedication above all else. His philosophy is in direct contrast to what corporate says it values.”
According to The Balance Careers, “Culture is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people. Culture is the behavior that results when a group arrives at a set of—generally unspoken and unwritten—rules for how they will work together. Your culture is made up of all of the life experiences that each employee brings to the workplace.”
So, how can you ensure that the corporate values you’ve painstakingly laid out are not derailed by individual players and more importantly, reflect the values of your workforce?
It starts with hiring. Get clear on what hiring for a cultural fit really means. For years organizational development experts have touted the importance of hiring for cultural fit. Yet hiring managers often fall short by confusing cultural fit with personal bias. It’s natural to favor someone we like or can identify with, but simply because we feel we can get along with someone doesn’t necessarily mean they share our values. Instead, include questions in the interview process that specifically target candidate’s values and how they apply them.
Look for conflict in the organization. When values clash, people clash. Dive deep into nearly any workplace conflict and you are bound to find misalignment between values. Take for example the situation above regarding the department head who puts his values of hard work and loyalty above the company’s stated value of work-life balance. His department was full of conflict, which resulted in high employee turnover. After all, employees thought they were joining a company that valued autonomy and balance but found themselves working for a leader that didn’t value those things at all. And, while there were short term productivity gains, it was costing the company quite a bit of money in employee replacement costs (and reputation).
Get everyone on the same page and your culture (and bottom line) will flourish. When there is alignment between individual and company values employees thrive and stay. The days of viewing a job as a paycheck are gone. Employees want to feel personally connected to the company’s mission. They want to feel drawn to the “why” of what they are working towards. Aligning corporate values with employee values is a good first step.