Getting employees to align with organizational values is not easy. This article explores ways to take your values training beyond a mere checkbox activity.

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“Why should I care about the organization’s values? They’ve got nothing to do with me.”

This was a question asked, in all earnest innocence, by an employee who had newly joined our team. They were referring to the induction program they’d had to ‘sit through’ in all previous organizations.

Distressing as it was to hear, it gave me pause.

At Learnnovators, we’ve been designing onboarding programs for decades, and we have had our fair share of successes and failures. But none where the presentation of the values happened to be a point of contention.

Here’s the thing: No one wants the values to simply hang as plaques on a wall. At the same time, we also don’t want to force them on an employee. We want them to imbibe the values, adopt them wholeheartedly if they haven’t already, and uphold them in their day-to-day functioning.

After all, the purpose of this training is to bring employees together, charging them with a sense of shared purpose and vision, and guiding their actions and decisions. Organizations who do this successfully see a quantum jump in their growth. The employees benefit greatly too, in terms of professional development and overall satisfaction in their roles.

But in order for this to work, all of the following criteria should be satisfied:

Criteria 1: The employees too already hold the same values; and even if they’re not, they are at least not against them. For example, a company that I worked with had “lean into ambiguity” as a value. It was an apt one, since the company thrives on creativity and innovation. However, if the employee is an individual who is inclined towards things being laid out as clearly as possible, then this value may not have an effect on them.

Criteria 2: They believe that you absolutely mean what you say. If your values talk about respecting people, but if your recruitment process did not uphold that in practice, then they’re going to reject what you’re saying straight away. There are organizations who keep their candidates waiting endlessly, or have them upload their resumes in multiple stringent formats, or take them through endless rounds of interviews, all of which just goes to show the amount of (or lack of) respect they have for the candidates’ time.

Criteria 3: They understand that the values are upheld in the day-to-day functioning of the organization. Okay, it’s a bit early for them to understand this in the beginning, but they are going to be watching out for this. For example, if one of the company’s values is safety, then at some point, someone is going to test what happens when they don’t follow the safety norms. Even if they themselves don’t end up flouting a norm (either accidentally or deliberately), they will definitely watch the action taken when someone else does that.

Assuming that all three criteria above are fulfilled, here are a few ways to ensure that the organization’s values are conveyed in as succinct and as convincing a manner as possible. I’m sorry to say that these approaches still cannot guard you against the initial cynicism that some employees might have. That’s something that we can only slowly overcome over time, by ensuring that the values are consistently ‘lived’ and reinforced over an extended period of time.

Identifying (with) the values

  1. Share concrete examples of what it means to live these values in the day-to-day functioning of the organization.
  2. Ask employees to identify and list down their personal values. And then show them the organization’s values, getting them to make a comparison and draw similarities between the two. Even though there is unlikely to be a 1:1 match, some overlaps are bound to be there, which will help in establishing a connect in the employees’ minds.
  3. Ask them to think about how these organizational values might benefit them personally and in their professional lives. Then, possibly, share stories of other, existing employees talking about the benefits they gleaned by leaning into these values.
  4. Ask them if there are any values they don’t identify with as yet, and if yes, why. Also ask for their suggestion on what they might replace them with. This seems like a self-defeating exercise considering that we’re trying to train them on values, but a question like this can prompt them to think about why they’re opposed to a certain value (if they are), and also give us an opportunity to follow up and have a discussion about it in person. If you are doing this through an e-learning program, make sure that the employees’ responses are captured in a central location.
  5. Check if they’ve seen these values being demonstrated anywhere outside (outside because they haven’t yet spent time within the organization), in either a good or bad way. And, for bad demonstrations of the value, have them think about what could have been done differently.

Living the values

  1. Ask employees to consider how they plan to demonstrate these values in their work. If that’s not possible since they’re brand new to the organization, have them list at least two to three instances where they would put the company values to use within their first month.
  2. Share a series of realistic, on-the-job scenarios and have the audience make decisions on how they would respond in those scenarios. Ensure that the scenarios reflect real-world dilemmas that they would face. Follow up by showing them the consequence of their decision, as well as detailed feedback on why the decision reflected a certain value, or not.
  3. Share stories of how the values were applied by various employees and senior management in the company.
  4. Subtly reinforce the values in other, less expected parts of the course, examples and scenarios, questions, etc.
  5. Run a campaign

Other ways to ensure that employees adopt your organizational values wholeheartedly:

  1. Hire employees who hold the same, or similar, values (see Criteria #1 above): This is the best way to ensure that the entire employee population is living and breathing your values. But this is easier said than done, so…
  2. Ensure that the environment and systems are working towards emphasizing these values (Criteria #2 and #3 above): Even the most motivated employees need to see that their positive actions are recognized and rewarded appropriately… and any negative actions attract a warning or a punishment.

So, these are my ideas for creating a ‘values’ training that rocks, and for embedding these values deep inside employees’ minds.

In case you’re wondering, the employee who asked the question about values on their Day 1 is still with the organization after several years. And I must say, they are one of the most ardent advocates of our values as any you’ll ever find.

Written by Srividya Kumar, Co-Founder @ Learnnovators

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