A recent study cited in the New York Times has shown that school children, if left without influence, tend towards bullying and other selfish behavior. And conversely, that it is quite possible to instil in a school values of teamwork, tolerance and support for each other.
This study concluded that values have to be, and can, be taught. Fast forward 20 years and the child takes his or her place in the organization. How many organizations take responsibility for instilling the important values in their employees?
I have often wondered why it is that basically good, constructive individuals can become rude, unattentive and often bullies themselves when placed into the world of their organization. Unguided, organizational culture tends towards the lowest common demoninator. Some individuals are actively offensive, and most of the rest, lacking support to be otherwise, take steps down that same path in order to survive.
Instilling the right values is a key role of leaders. Some education occurs explictly through conversation, induction and training. Much occurs through role modelling. The rest occurs through the process of encouraging and discouraging behaviors when they are displayed in others. This process forms the foundation on which a culture is built naturally and over time. It is particularly obvious in companies with strong cultures in which they are proud. But there are many others which remind me of the school yard. Lots of focus on technical development, but very little on the development of values. And in these environments, the lowest common demoninator behavior tends to prevail. Selfish behavior inside the organization spills out to the outside world. The consequence is that customers and other stakeholders are bullied. The techniques used become more sophisticated, but the experience of the customer remains similar - helpless, co-erced, ignored, unappreciated.
When an organization wants to introduce new behavior and a new value, the natural evolutionary process is usually not enough. The leaders themselves need to change, as well as everyone else in the organization. In these circumstances a more proactive plan to build the desired culture is necessary to speed the process along. The same challenge occurs when, as an organization grows rapidly, the established, natural process of values instillation becomes strained by the sheer speed of growth.
Some techniques can help improve the values instillation process
- Explicit expression of what the important values are
- Explicitly link a good behavior to the value of which it is an example - (eg. "The way you are asking questions is exactly what I mean when I say we need to become an organization which challenges status quo")
- Setting standards and sticking to them - (eg."We will not speak badly of someone behind their back unless we have also spoken to them directly").
Carolyn is the CEO of Walking the Talk and author of 'Walking the Talk: Building a Culture for Success' (Random House).
Twitter @walkingourtalk or LinkedIn.