Every week, we read stories of employees who, by violating corporate values, destroy their company’s reputation, assets, trust and goodwill. The following are recent examples:
- BP prided itself on a culture of safety. Yet, time after time, it appears rig personnel made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense.
- While professing a value proposition of “Complete Customer Solutions” based on individual needs, Goldman Sachs executives put “making enough money for the firm” as their highest priority.
- A SUNY Medical University survey found that 55% of medical technicians used either their cell phone, texted or checked their e-mail while performing cardiopulmonary bypass procedures.
How can this happen? How can employees at all levels disregard the well-known values of their organizations? There are no simple answers, but warning signals to look out for include:
- Abstract and contradictory values.
Corporate value statements can be so abstract that they can be contradictory, such as when a company claims to be equally concerned about stockholders, employees, and customers, or when it claims to offer the highest quality at the lowest cost. These types of value statements only confuse employees when they have tough choices to make. Without clear guidelines, employees frequently choose the behavior they think will please their boss, protect themselves or get the results they expect the organization to reward.
- Misaligned reward systems.
Organizations frequently — and inadvertently — reward the wrong values and behaviors. If you look carefully, you may see this occurring in your own organization. For example:
Leaders Promote But Reward Collaboration ——————————-> Individual behavior Long term growth ————————–> Quarterly earnings Employee engagement ——————> Tight control over operations Innovative thinking ————————-> Established error-free methods
- A culture of fear and blame.
A punitive culture forces employees to look out for themselves and not their organization or their customers. They will choose not to identify incidents they believe may get them — or their coworkers — reprimanded. This discourages organizations from learning from their mistakes so they can prevent them in the future. Advocated values then become hollow statements creating cynicism rather than inspiration.
- Adopting the wrong behaviors.
You see this most frequently with new employees. They want to know, “How do things REALLY work around here?” “What’s important to management?” “How do I get rewarded?” What they see represents the prevailing cultural values. If a new nurse sees surgeons going in and out of operating rooms without changing their masks, they will soon see this as an acceptable behavior. Seeing as few as two or three instances of the same behavior, new employees begin to believe that those behaviors are acceptable and/or the “right” ones to be successful.