Values reimagined – posters on the wall won’t cut it anymore

Values reimagined – posters on the wall won’t cut it anymore


In Issue 4 of The Reimagine Work Series, I introduced the five organization dimensions that we’ve used to develop our emerging paradigms. It starts with values defined as:


What we hold sacred – the standard to which we hold ourselves.


The events of 2020 have put an unprecedented (that word!) amount of pressure on our values at a societal, organizational and personal level. These different levels of values cannot be considered in isolation and influence one another making it a complex and dynamic system that needs careful nurturing.


Our values at a societal level


At a societal level, the ‘all-in’ nature of the pandemic and the somewhat related uprising around long ignored social and racial injustices, have challenged our values at a personal level.

We know that our response to the pandemic has been mixed. The majority of people are aligning around a new set of social norms (wearing masks and social distancing) while at the same time a significant proportion of the population don’t appear to appreciate the ‘we’re in this together’ hashtag by choosing not to take a vaccine (when one is available).

The social and racial inequalities have resulted in a significant amount of navel gazing… and book sales. From my (privileged) vantage point, new conversations have been triggered and I remain confident that the words will progress to meaningful action, but it will take time.


Our personal values


At a personal level, research conducted in April and May 2020 by the Barrett Values Centre (BVC) highlights the cultural impact of COVID-19 on our values. Personal values represent what matters most to us as an individual and therefore impact how we behave. When there is alignment between personal values and those of the organization, employees feel a strong sense of connection and can bring their full selves to work.


‘When compared with personal values Pre-COVID, we have seen four new values emerge in top priority during the pandemic: making a difference, adaptability, well-being, and caring. The values of continuous learning and family were already present Pre-COVID and have since increased in priority.’


When you consider values at an organization level, there is a resulting top-down and bottom-up pressure on the organizational values – and there’s nowhere to hide.

As the Did They Help leaderboard shows us, we are judging organizations based on this heightened awareness of societal and personal values. It’s clear that some companies (and individuals) got it right and some got it badly wrong.


A paradigm shift


All this pressure leads to a paradigm shift from employees embracing the organization’s values to an emerging paradigm where organizations adjust to new societal values. This includes five elements.


1. Health & safety has become priority #1 in every workplace


In the BVC survey, the Employee Health value moved from #61 to #5. Organizations have invested in PPE and plexiglass to keep their people safe in those situations where they couldn’t keep them at home. Companies are also introducing new protocols to manage the health status of their teams.


2. Emotional wellbeing becomes mainstream


There is a delicate balance between physical safety and mental wellbeing with heightened levels of anxiety and feelings of isolation. In the BVC survey, Wellbeing moved from #57 to #16 and Caring has moved up from #25 to #4.


3. Greater social contribution and organization selflessness


When done well, social responsibility programs provide the opportunity to demonstrate strong alignment between the values of the organization, society (including customers) and its people. I love these examples from Telus.


4. Blurred boundaries between work and home


The work from home experiment is being extended for many organizations and will become a permanent feature of our working lives in one form or another. Companies will need to carefully manage the new blurred boundaries between work and home to create a productive, engaging and collaborative environment for their people.


5. More innovation and less bureaucracy


Bureaucracy dropped from #3 to #52 in the BVC survey as organizations as we see more value (pun intended) being placed on adaptability, agility and innovation.


How to respond


Many organizations were prepared to deal with this emerging paradigm. For others it represented their lived reality. These organizations will be the ones that continue to flourish. But for many more, they have been left asking questions about the gaps they have seen.

For these organizations in particular, I’d propose three easy (to say hard to do) steps:


1. Reflect on your current values


A crisis (never mind 3!) shines a spotlight on your values and provides the opportunity to review how they held up. Getting input from your people about how they feel can be used to inform where you might have gaps and what work needs to be done to be better prepared for the next event.


2. Co-create your new values … if necessary


If changes need to be made to your organizational values to adjust to new societal values, make those changes transparently and engage your people in a process of co-creation. Getting a diverse set of voices will be critical in ensuring they resonate with people.


3. Bring your values to life


You may be lucky enough to skip step 2, but regardless there will still be work to be done to bring your values to life. No this doesn’t mean putting them on posters. This about embedding them in your daily work practices in a meaningful way and holding yourself accountable to them.

Edgar Schein, considered by many to be the most notable thought leader when it comes to culture, is quoted as saying:


‘The company … has no rights to survive. But value systems and philosophies survive. People take them with them’.


Values are what we hold sacred and therefore need to be embedded and nurtured – posters on the wall won’t cut it anymore.


Mark Edgar

Mark Edgar – a recovering CHRO and Founder of Goat Rodeo Project, a consulting firm designed to help you predict and avoid train wrecks. For the avoidance of doubt, we’re in a goat rodeo. Follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter for more HR-related ramblings. It would be great to catch-up.