Why Values Cause Leaders To Fail

To be a successful leader, you must provide your team with clear direction and a set of values that they can use to make difficult decisions, prevent and resolve conflict, and build strong internal and external relationships. Most
values statements provide none of these benefits.

Even though most leaders are well aware of the importance of values to their organizations, our research reveals that almost 95% of corporate values statements are ineffective and in, some cases, even dangerous to the future of the company.
Our research shows that there are four primary reasons why corporate values statements fail:

  • There is a complete misunderstanding about what values really are.
  • The values are vague generalities and/or not in order.
  • There are no measurable criteria that tell whether the values are being realized.
  • The values are not successfully transmitted into and lived by the organization. Even worse, the actions of management can contradict the stated values.

Let’s look at each of these four causes of corporate values failure and find out how to resolve them.

Failure #1 - Not Understanding What Values Really Are

The word “values” is frequently used by organizational leaders, managers, politicians, advertisers, and religious leaders for their convenience and to advance a preset agenda, but rarely is it used to provide the organization
with absolute certainty that can be used for decision making, conflict resolution, and crisis management.

There are thousands of possible values, but there is no combination that is right for everyone. In our course Values Focused Leadership, a value is defined as “certainty about what is important.”

This means that generic phrases and big aspirational words such as “continuous improvement” and “developing people” are of no use because they don’t provide any certainty about what is important. If team members aren’t certain about what is important they won’t have a set of criteria that they can use to make decisions and they will waste countless hours arguing among themselves about what is most important.

The real purpose of a values statement is to provide your organization with certainty about what is important rather than a general listing of ways that your company should do business. Things such as “continuous improvement,” “delighting the customer,” and “developing people” may be useful for a mission statement, but are worthless as values.

In every situation something is most important whether anyone knows what it is or not.

During the Values Focused Leadership workshop you will find out exactly what your values currently are and how to discover and set new values if your existing values are not serving you well.

Failure #2 – Not Having Values In Order

To be effective, values need to be communicated in order, not just listed.

Even a set of well-defined values is useless if it is not in order. As an example, three common corporate values are: “profitability,” “outstanding customer service,” and “dedication to innovation.” A truly effective values statement tells the team exactly what order these values are in so they know how to make decisions and resolve conflict.

If the values are in this order: (1) profitability (2) innovation (3) outstanding customer service, your team knows that you are not willing to sacrifice profitability for customer service. There will be no conflict over this issue and decisions will be made accordingly even if they leave some customers unhappy. This order of values may serve you well if you are the only supplier of a product or operate an extremely low margin business.

If they are in this order: (1) outstanding customer service (2) innovation (3) profitability, your staff knows that you are willing to sacrifice profitability to satisfy the customer. There is no need for conflict over the cost of providing customer service.

Knowing not only the values, but their order inoculates against conflict and provides everyone in your organization with a solid framework for decision making.

When you attend the Values Focused Leadership workshop (either live or DVD) you will set the exact order of your values. Warning: this exercise will challenge you, but the results will be worth it.

Failure #3 - Lack Of Criteria

The third challenge that we found with values statements was that they tend to be so vague that it is impossible to know if the values are being implemented.

For example: “create win/win outcomes” or “do no evil” are great sentiments that everyone can agree with, but are impossible to measure and therefore provide no guidance for the organization. Exactly what is “evil” will be a source of endless discussion, confusion, and conflict.

For a value to be effective, everyone must know what criteria will be used to measure it. Even better, these criteria are integrated into the performance and review system with rewards for those who follow them.

Even a seemingly obvious value like “outstanding customer service” must have criteria. Are you really willing to spend whatever it takes to satisfy the customer, or are there some limits? If so, what are the limits and how are they measured?

Part of the Values Focused Leadership workshop will help you to set the criteria that will be used to implement the values that you have set.

Failure #4 – Failure To Transmit and Integrate

Even if you have well defined values in a specific order with criteria, they will be of no practical use unless everyone knows what the values are are. They must also pass a reality check that verifies that you really support the values and their priority.

Lip service won’t do it. Your staff will quickly discover what the truth is.

What Do You Think?

Do you like this approach? When you try some of these, let me know how they work for you!

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