Alan Williams & Alison Whybrow: The value of values for employee engagement

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 “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea” Antoine De Saint Exupery

Employee Engagement has become a science in itself with surveys measuring everything from the onboarding experience, satisfaction with line management relationships throughto exit interviews. The value of each employee to the organization’s bottom line and the impact and cost of replacement, particularly of skilled high performers, drives this focus. Amongst this wealth of data, it’s easy to lose sight of the fundamentals. To what extent are you leading the engagement agenda? Or are you in danger of letting the engagement data lead you?

Fleshing out three fundamentals of employee engagement: Purpose, Values Alignment and Value add, we encourage you to reflect whether your engagement strategy is truly engaging.

Purpose As human beings, we long to make meaning of our existence – creating stories and reasons for events without a second thought. Having a purpose in life – the sense of making a contribution in some way – is one of the factors that leads to happiness and contentment.

For organizations, connecting people with a broader purpose in the work that they do can tap into the energy and resources that people have at their disposal. Purpose is not a given for organizations, it needs careful crafting – believable if it is to be believed in.

“Purpose expresses the company’s fundamental value – the raison d’etre or over-riding reason for existing. It is the end to which the strategy is directed” Richard Ellsworth

Purpose statements need to be “lived” and “compel” people to action – an idea that people can emotionally line up behind and commit to. Purpose statements don’t just engage, they energise and enable evolution without overwhelming chaos, as whatever the changes taking place, the overall direction, the principles and intent are clear and consistent.Charlotte Rainer describes the shared sense of purpose as the golden thread that becomes a fantastic rope that people can hang on to.

Imagine for a moment that a global conglomerate had the defining purpose of “Changing the world”. Immediately, there is something that grabs your attention. Steve Jobs, luring John Sculley, then CEO of PepsiCo, to Apple, famously and, ultimately successfully, evoked Sculley’s sense of purpose by asking “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”

What is the unique contribution that your organization makes that the world of today needs?

Values Alignment. What do we mean by this?  A clear set of core values, the guiding principles, the handrails that individuals can grasp hold of as they navigate ambiguous, fast changing global contexts are essential ingredients connecting purpose with the day to day.

The IBM CEO Study, Leading through Connections, outlined three imperatives essential for outperformance.   The first was empowering employees through values.Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges estimate that fewer than 10% of organizations have clear, written values and many take the work on values no further than words. To impact, core values need to extend into the day-to-day fabric of the organization and be a reference for decisions and behaviours at all levels, influencing people daily. In other words, the organisation needs to be aligned around the core values.

Richard Barrett of the Barrett Values Centre, comments that by collectively focusing on what you want to be as a business, the principles by which you want to deliver and the behaviours associated with success, the corporate soul is unleashed.

What are your core values?

Value Add. To know that we are adding value, that our actions and choices are worthy and worthwhile is a basic human need. Just imagine if it were possible to align and engage from purpose through values down to the day today choices and actions of every employee?

You’d be surprised. Once you’ve articulated your core values, it’s relatively simple to take these out of the board room and off the lobby walls into the day to day. Once employees know what good looks like on a daily basis, they are better placed to make choices about how they behave, to align with the organization’s core purpose.  As one employee in a client organization shared recently “It feels good knowing that we are all focused on the same thing. Over time it has just become natural”.

This powerful organizational synchrony, where every employee is making a choice to align their actions with core purpose on a daily basis strongly impact brand and reputation, and effectiveness.

What would it be like in your organisation if you were living your core values across the organisation every day?

Of course, this level of alignment from core purpose to daily behaviour is not easy to achieve – if it was, everybody would be doing it already.The challenge is in the relentless pursuit and obsession with authentic delivery: every action, every person, every day… and practice makes more perfect!

These three engagement fundamentals are core to the 31Practices framework which is the subject of a new book THE 31 PRACTICES: Release the power of your organization’s values every day, Alan Williams and Dr Alison Whybrow, LID Publishing.

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