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Four Ways to Make Sure Your Company Values are not Lip Service

Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence are very common values companies adopt. These particular four were the core values at Enron. Remember Enron? Needless to say their values were words on their annual report, webpages and wall posters. And again we learned that more commitment and work is needed than just slogans.

Enron is of course an extreme example. Not only it is still considered one of the top three accounting scandals in US history, but thousands of employees lost their pensions and jobs in the aftermath. Enron also brought down a top accounting firm in the process (along with its 85,000 employees) and the whole scandal prompted action from the federal government in the form of the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002. SOX as it is known changed the game for accounting firms, public and private companies and incorporated many more controls that went beyond financial reporting.

But we shouldn’t need a catastrophe to pay attention to how and if we live our values in our business. There are many examples of how actions and values do not reconcile on the day-to-day of a company. Have you ever seen policies being disregarded? Maybe the rules that were not applied to high executives the same way they were applied to other employees. I am sure you can think of situation that you lived or witnessed in your own professional life.

To make sure you do what you say and that you say what you do, here are four ways to make sure you and your organization live your values:

Define what they really mean – I am not talking about the definition from the dictionary; I am talking about describing specific behaviors that demonstrate what the value means to the organization. Instead of just defining Respect as treating someone (or something) in a way that shows that you value him, her or it, add specific DOs and DON’Ts. Examples such as: pay attention to people talking to you, do not ignore people, be punctual, do not give people nicknames, clean after yourself in your work space and shared areas and return tools and materials to their proper location.

Add to job descriptions, customer literature and open meetings with it – Make sure not only employees, but applicants, customers, and vendors know what you stand for. Open meetings talking about your values, it will make them stay at the front of their minds.

Promote and Discipline based on you values – Use counseling as an opportunity to remind employees of expected behavior, make sure you are specific. “Catch” your employees living company’s values and reward them for doing so. Make sure you talk about your values during performance review.

Lead by example – Your employees will always learn more from what the consistently observe than from a training session or pamphlet. A “do what I say, not what I do” environment is a slippery slope.

I know it is easier said than done, but following these steps and being consistent about it will make your organization stronger. As Peter Drucker said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.