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Making Values Work: Turning Words into Actions

Among the kinds of leadership and organizational behaviors that can frustrate me is found in the following, all too common, scenario:


  • Organizational leaders create a set of “guiding or core values."

  • These values are displayed on posters, banners, websites, etc., for all to see.

  • Then these leaders exclaim, “Yes, we have values. Don’t they look and sound great. Wow, we have values.”

  • Shortly thereafter, it's, “Ok. Let’s get back to work.” No time spent time discussing these values, what they mean, what behaviors reflect and don’t reflect these values, and how ALL employees, including leadership, will be held accountable to practice these values/behaviors.

  • As a result, those stated values are gradually forgotten by employees, along with sensing that they have zero influence on “how we do business” in their organization. (Sounds like those strategic plans in 3-ringed binders that often gather dust on the shelf.)


In other words, “VALUES WITHOUT ACTION.”


Unfortunately, an organization in which values are not put into action can lead to a number of negative consequences for employees and their places of work. Such places of work:


  • Make decisions that are not vision and mission driven.

  • Experience diminished customer service.

  • Inhibit innovation.

  • Have difficulty acquiring and keeping talented employees.

  • Lack resilience.

  • Are short on engaged workers.

  • Create environments of mistrust.

Organizational values are the guiding principles that shape a company's culture, drive decision-making, and define its identity. To be effective, these values must be operationalized. According to Dictionary.com, Operationalized is defined as:

To put into operation, action, or use; Implement.

To “put into operation,” organizational values must be translated from abstract concepts into meaningful behaviors that all employees can practice as part of their day-to-day activities. Values must be integrated into every aspect of the company's operations to be effective. Here are some actions that can aid in transforming values into actionable strategies:


  1. Define Clear Behaviors: Begin by translating each value into specific, observable behaviors. For example, if a value is "Integrity," outline what integrity looks like in daily actions, such as honest communication, accountability, and transparency.

  2. Align with Goals: Ensure that values align with a company's strategic goals. Values should complement and reinforce the organization's mission, vision, and objectives, creating a cohesive framework for decision-making.

  3. Training and Education: Equip employees with the knowledge and skills necessary to embody these values. Conduct training sessions, workshops, and provide resources that help them understand and apply the values in their roles.

  4. Communication: Regularly communicate values to the entire organization. Share success stories that highlight how employees have demonstrated these values, fostering a culture that celebrates them.

  5. Feedback Mechanisms: Establish feedback mechanisms that allow employees to provide input on the alignment of values with day-to-day operations. This creates a sense of ownership and encourages continuous improvement.

  6. Recognition and Rewards: Recognize and reward employees who exemplify the organization's values. This not only reinforces the values but also motivates others to follow suit.

  7. Evaluation and Accountability: Develop key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics that track how well the values are practiced. Hold all employees accountable for behaving according to the organization's stated values. Regularly assess overall progress and make necessary adjustments, if necessary.


While all the above may make sense, certainly, operationalizing organizational values and ensuring that they are practiced by employees in every corner of their company is very challenging. No doubt, conscientious leaders who are strongly committed to these values and to seeing them in action everywhere in their organization, may occasionally lose sleep at night wondering if this is the case.


Nevertheless, when values are woven into the fabric of the company, they become a powerful force for shaping its culture and driving success. In this way, values cease to be mere words on a wall and instead become a living, breathing part of the organization's DNA, guiding actions and decisions at every level.


Live Your Values.


Jim Dittmar


Jim Dittmar has been a leadership teacher, trainer, and coach for over thirty years. Leadership development is his passion. He is Professor Emeritus of Leadership Studies at Geneva College. Currently, Jim is President and CEO of the 3Rivers Leadership Institute, Director of Leadership Beaver County, and an adjunct professor at several local universities and colleges. If you are interested in contacting him about using his leadership services in your organization, please email him at jimdittmar@jimdittmar.com or call him at 724-462-9962.

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