• Sarah Cameron

The Role of Senior Leaders in Creating Values-led Organisations


What are organisational values, and where do they come from?

Organisational values tell us what is important within an organisation, just as personal values tell us what matters to any individual. They are the principles that guide how work is done, how colleagues interact with each other and stakeholders, and how decisions are made. That is – when they are actually lived and embedded in an organisation, rather than just being words on the wall.

Values should support living the organisation’s purpose and should be aligned with what is needed to deliver the mission and vision. They should set behavioural expectations for all colleagues and values should be reinforced and supported by the organisation’s processes and structures.

Values are first created by founders and as companies grow and mature they are shaped by senior leaders, the employees brought into the organisation and the strategy and vision. Unlike your purpose which is the north star and should not be changed often if at all, your values may evolve as the organisation experiences change internally or is subject to change in the external environment.

Why do values matter?

Organisations that are truly values-led benefit in many ways. Firstly, they have a more defined identity and culture. When values are consistently understood and accepted by all employees this creates a tighter culture which results in more social glue between colleagues and more shared beliefs and practices amongst colleagues, this can create a sense of belonging. Consistency in behaviours can be driven by values, which can be positive when the values are aligned with your strategy. Strong values will also attract likeminded talent into the organisation, which is a benefit but something that should also be managed from a diversity perspective. This can extend beyond employees to attracting likeminded stakeholders, whether this is customers, sponsors, suppliers, or partners. Values can also be motivating to employees and serve as a rallying point for engagement and connection with the organisation.

Leaders cast a long shadow and have a critical role to play.


Senior leaders have a critical role to play in maintaining or creating a values-led organisation and they have a series of obligations when it comes to organisational values. These begin with having a shared understanding of the values, what they mean and why they matter. This must be sincere, which is best realised through encouraging senior leaders to reflect on what the values mean to them.

It is essential that leaders embody organisational values by ‘walking the talk’ and leading by example. If leaders don’t do this, or worse still, are acting in a way that is misaligned with the organisational values, employees will notice, and they will either be disappointed or take it as permission to also ignore the values. Leaders need to commit to role-modelling the values. This could be through communicating their importance or establishing cultural rituals that they own that support the values. Senior leaders must also hold each other accountable for values-based leadership, giving support and guidance where needed. Finally, senior leaders – as the key decision makers – must be guided by organisational values when making decisions and doing business. In short, organisational values must be at the heart of everything senior leaders do.

How can leaders create a values-led organisation?

Five practical steps that should be taken by senior leaders to support a values-led approach

1. Start with reflection:

  • Leaders need to commit time to discussing what the values are, how well they are lived in the organisation today and if there are any barriers to living the values that they need to address.

  • Leaders need to consider how they can live these values, and how they can make this visible to their teams.

2. Make it difficult to forget about the values:

  • Put them on the agenda in key meetings – for example, even a 2-minute check-in on values at the start of meetings will keep them top of mind.

  • Use them as a lens in decision-making – for example, when sharing decisions with the board, leaders must show how the values have been considered.

  • Make public commitments to employees on how they will live the values.

3. Hold up a mirror:

  • Leaders should hold each other accountable in their peer group for living the values.

  • Leaders should seek 360 feedback on how they are living the values.

4. Get some support:

  • Communications coaching or training will help leaders speak authentically about the values and tell powerful stories.

  • Seek out opportunities to get involved in existing initiatives aligned with the values.

  • Work with a coach on setting goals around strengthening your role modelling of the values.

5. Higher the stakes:

  • Tie reward to how leaders have lived and championed the values.


 

If you need more leadership engagement with your current values or if you need to refresh your organisational values, then contact us today at info@inspiringchange.ie