The Research Is Clear: Few Employees Believe in Their Company's Values


Companies spend a lot of time and energy letting everyone know about their values. It's the good and right thing to do, but what happens when your employees don't believe you stand behind the values you are touting to them?

According to recent research from Gallup, only 27 percent of U.S. employees agree that they strongly agree that they "believe in" their organization's values, and just 23 percent strongly agree that they can apply their organization's values to their work every day.

Paying "lip service" to values and culture

These numbers make a great case that employees feel companies only pay "lip service" to the values they trumpet. Here's the crux of the problem, according to Gallup:

Part of the problem is that "organizational culture" isn't easy to define. It has been defined in myriad ways, from broad descriptions of employee behavior to academic philosophies and perspectives. ...

Unfortunately, our research also shows that in many companies, gaps exist between the desired culture -- the one leaders envision and strive to realize -- and the culture that employees experience.

These gaps create inconsistency and confusion for employees and customers. The most successful companies identify these gaps and implement strategies, systems and processes that reduce them, taking actions that incrementally move the company closer to its aspired culture."

Working against the company

The big problem here, as Gallup points out, is that organizations tout cultures that say the company believes in certain, specific values, but the employees -- those who deal with the company day-in and day-out -- don't see that the organization really follows what they preach.

The research also shows that culture can be a "formidable driver of performance," and I have been writing about how culture is really the key to driving higher levels of employment engagement, rather than the other way around as so would have it.

But Gallup also pints out that "when a company struggles with gaps between the desired culture and the actual culture," it hinders the organization from not only achieving performance goals, but also, from meeting customers' needs.

In this way, organizational values that are poorly aligned with company culture actually work against both how employees perform and how customers get handled -- and those are about as bad a pair of outcomes as a company can get.


It's all about organizational identity

Is there an answer to this problem? Gallup says there is, and it's this:

The most successful companies Gallup has studied don't see culture as a stand-alone initiative or program; instead, they take a comprehensive and integrated approach to creating and sustaining it. By approaching culture as a way to bring the company's purpose to life -- and create a brand that uniquely meets customers' needs -- these businesses not only create cultures worthy of studying -- they build a strategic foundation for outstanding performance.

Therefore, Gallup also sees culture as part of a larger dynamic called organizational identity. Culture alone is devoid of impact -- and potentially destructive to progress -- if employees move in different directions because leaders don't tie culture to the company's purpose and brand, strategically managing these elements in tandem.

Leaders might have a powerful vision for their company's culture, but if they fail to measure and align culture with purpose and brand, the result will be fragmented messaging and poor performance."

3 things leaders need to do

Here are three suggestions that Gallup's analysts say are key for organizations that want to shift their culture from what is to what could be. They say that leaders need to make sure their culture is:

  1. Clearly defined, communicated, and managed as an extension of purpose and brand.
  2. Quantified. Once leaders define the desired culture, they need to know whether the company is succeeding at bringing the culture to life. Quantitative measures enable leaders to track progress over time and link culture to relevant business outcomes.
  3. Intentionally managed. Companies should deliberately manage and review activities and processes to be sure they communicate messages that are consistent with the desired culture.

Making employees cynical and jaded

My take: Employees have known for years that, in many companies, the values aren't worth the paper they're written on. That goes for mission statements, too.

I've lost far too many brain cells over the years sitting in hours and hours of mind-numbing meetings where "facilitators" poked and prodded us to brainstorm what would become the framework for the company's values and mission.

But, the brainstorming process that seemed so tedious and involved did more to make employees jaded, cynical, and skeptical of the documents that defined the values and mission the group finally ended up with.

You should dig into the Gallup research that lays all this out, but they are absolutely spot on when they point out that the disconnect between what organizations say their values are MUST mirror how employees feel the values are practiced daily through the company.

This is the key to making values work. Gallup will have more on this soon, they say, but they seem to cut to the heart of it in this analysis. Read it and see if you think so too.