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LEADERSHIP IS A PROCESS OF SOCIAL INFLUENCE, WHICH MAXIMISES THE EFFORTS OF OTHERS TOWARDS THE ACHIEVEMENT OF A SHARED GOAL.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Businesses communicate a lot of things. Many love to boast when their revenues soar, or publicise the strategic restructuring of their organisational response committees (whatever that means). But often missing from a firm's communications is something absolutely fundamental to its operations: its values.
If a company doesn't take the time and effort to communicate its values in a meaningful way, then it's like the old tree-falling-in-the-forest cliché: It makes a big splash, but no one is around to appreciate its impact.
Recent high-profile scandals and crises have made it clear that many businesses do not properly or openly communicate their values. That has direct and indirect effects on the economy, which is made all the worse by rising fears of a double-dip recession and angst over the state of global markets.
Just look at how The News of the World phone-hacking scandal has exposed News Corp. to accusations over the company's values and the efficacy of its leadership. Had the company more openly communicated what it stands for and the moral compass its employees follow, it likely would not have been vilified so thoroughly in the press. Despite numerous protestations from Rupert Murdoch and his top lieutenants that the company's values align perfectly with the public's best interests, the damage has been done. The public is left questioning what, if anything, does this company stand for?
Even NewsCorp. purports to have values, but like many other companies it fails to effectively communicate them to the outside world. Having strong corporate values is admirable, but values without proactive employee communication of their importance might as well not exist. A firm might host a company-wide meeting to reaffirm the employee-engagement programme or to deliver the annual report, but how often have you seen that effort start with a bang and quickly fizzle out as people move on with their day-to-day tasks? Employee communications has never been a more important component of a CEO's management toolbox, and we must educate our employees on how to effectively communicate values and make them resonate.
What else can businesses do to better communicate their values? A few key ideas to keep in mind:
Ask employees what is important to them. Seek their input on how well the company's work, and in turn, its employees, reflect their value system. Remember that generalised concepts — even oft-used words found in mission statements like "integrity" and "commitment" — have different meanings to people from different cultures and backgrounds.
Establish core values across the company, not just within management. If management sets values, who would own them? You need buy-in from employees; they have to feel a certain ownership over value creation.
Develop a values communications plan. Employee communications has to be at the forefront of your value-setting agenda; too often, executives fail to proactively seek employee input and buy-in before values are put in place. This leads to antipathy and resentment among those employees who don't feel a company's values align with their personal and professional aspirations.
Live your values. Embrace the corporate values and be mindful of them in every decision you make — both in good and bad times. Never forget that actions speak louder than words.
Few companies get every component of "the business of values" just right. Value setting is a tough business, often fraught with multiple challenges and divergent agendas. But once those values are set, right or wrong, every CEO would be wise to communicate them and live them as though his business depends on it. Because it just might.
Now is the time to take the whole business of values, and the values of our businesses, a lot more seriously.