Companies today are experiencing a crisis of engagement. Gallup recently estimated that as many as 85 percent of employees globally are disengaged with their employers. And what is a crisis of engagement, if not a crisis of values and purpose?

Recently, I’ve been interviewing more than 600 corporate executives and thought leaders from around the world. A consistent theme has emerged: engagement starts with people. If we don’t understand our people or what motivates them, if the stories we’re telling in the world don’t align with the experiences our people are living every day, then all the beautifully worded purpose and values statements won’t help us to engage them.

So how can companies live their values? They need to start with people. Here are some thoughts from business leaders about how to make values an integral part of your journey toward purpose.

Get Your Story Straight

To live your values, consistency and transparency are key. “What you say internally and externally have to be the same,” says Todd Rovak, CEO of Fahrenheit 212 and Capgemini Consulting North America. “If there’s one story for external customers and another story within the organization, it means your values and purpose aren’t aligned and it creates a pain point.”

A recent Capgemini report on digital culture transformation found a gap between leaders and employees when it comes to digital vision: 62% of leaders believe they have a clear digital strategy, as compared to 37% of employees.

How do we close the gap? Reed Taussig, CEO of Silicon Valley-based security and digital identity firm ThreatMetrix says, “We have to have a moral compass. Employees and customers have to view us as a transparent, honest and forthright. Which means, we actually have to operate that way.”

This underscores a key challenge for today’s leaders. “Leaders can set values and statements of purpose, but at the end of the day, they aren’t really the ones that will control culture,” says Rovak of Fahrenheit 212 and Capgemini Consulting. “But they can influence it by understanding what’s really important to their people.”

Understand Your People to Inspire Them

Values are about guiding people’s behavior; purpose is about inspiring them. But being inspiring means getting to know what our employees really value.

This was the driving force behind Asheville, North Carolina-based Mission Health, who use StandOut by The Marcus Buckingham Company, an ADP company for their engagement program. “Employees take the StandOut assessment so that their managers can better understand their strengths and conduct weekly one-on-one check in conversations to help managers and employees stay informed and aligned.” says Dr. Ron Paulus, President and CEO of Mission Health.

The program has helped to resolve some of the leading causes of employee burnout: failure to leverage employee strengths and perceived lack of opportunity within an organization. Says Paulus, “Statistically, we’ve seen an 83% increase in employee engagement since taking a strengths-based approach and we found that the employees who checked in with managers weekly were 60% more likely to be fully engaged than those who only checked in monthly.”

Professional services firm Grant Thornton LLP has taken a similar approach. The company’s insight-based engagement initiatives have helped to reduce the company’s turnover by more than 10%. Says People Experience Leader Nicole Blythe, “Our culture and values are about inspiring people to bring their whole selves to work, for the good of clients, our firm and themselves as individuals. We want people to gain insight about themselves, and how they achieve their goals in order to be at their best. We have ‘culture conversations’ where people can discuss how certain things are impacting them, how events occurring impact our culture, and how they as individuals can relate to it personally and professionally.”

It’s also important for employees to see their own values reflected in those of the company. Says Debbie Shotwell, Chief People Office of Saba Software, “Everyone has to come from a place of wanting to make the organization better. We have to be willing to listen and consider other viewpoints.”

This was the approach Saba took when it merged with Halogen Software. Leaders from both companies came together to ask, “what are the best things these two companies bring to the table?” with the goal of integrating as one company around the values they both shared.

Says Shotwell. “One of the values we share is our approach to people. We care about, develop, and celebrate our employees. We also want to keep having fun along the way and maintain an environment where people can bring their best to work. Because if we can each bring our best, then we can be our best for our customers.. So we listened and that became one of core values that came from these meetings.”

At KULR Technology, CEO Michael Mo directs a company of rocket scientists – people who’ve been doing research with NASA for decades. “They could work anywhere in the world,” Mo said. “But they are part of our family because at KULR they have the freedom to work on their passions and satisfy their cutting edge curiosities. Our company is building amazing, space-age materials because we understand our team and let them be who they are – it makes all the difference.”

Provide Tools to Succeed

Clearly stated and aligned values and purpose will only take you so far, however. People also need the tools to succeed, and this is something companies can do to further guide employees to live values.

Says Thomas McShane of City Electric Supply (CES), a family-owned, global wholesale business, “It’s important to invest in innovation that enables our workforce to grow. We have a communication platform called Waggl that we use as a tool for teaching about our history and our culture and how we operate. We also use it to provide opportunities for growth – training is something our employees really want. By providing tools to facilitate that we can create a phenomenal culture.”

Ed Breault, head of marketing at Aprimo, a marketing operations platform, agrees that providing tools helps employees be accountable for results and helps to keep them engaged.

“Innovation is really important to us, that’s what we hold people accountable for,” says Breault. “But there are things our team needs to dig deep and be better thinkers. One of those things is time away from work to recharge. So we put policies in place to support that. It makes our people that much better when they come back into the office.”

It’s also important to hire the right people. “One of the biggest success factors we see is when people’s personalities are aligned with how the organization operates,” says Breault. “We make them accountable, but we don’t require a lot of structure about how they deliver those results. They are in control.”

A New Approach to Values In the Digital Age

“Companies need to establish a clear vision, and then not mess with it too much. It’s up to employees whether they will undergo the personal transformation that’s required to live those values,” says Joe Carella, Assistant Dean for Executive Education at University of Arizona.

“For some, the personal transformation required may be too extreme and they may have to leave,” says Carella. “In a digital world, teams and cultures will tend to shape themselves. Analog companies tend to push at customers and employees. In digital companies, employees and customers are in control.”

There is an application here for living values in your culture. Ultimately, your people will determine whether they will live the values that your company espouses. Companies can influence them to make the decisions we want by listening to discover a purpose and values that resonate; attracting, retaining and promotion people who value the same things and providing the tools to they need to succeed.


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