Every organization has its own set of values, which are typically words or phrases the organization believes in or wants to represent. Values help guide the organization’s culture and actions. Oftentimes these values include words or phrases such as trust, transparency, fun, innovation, collaboration, and honesty. But for many organizations, these things are nothing more than lip service and useless platitudes.
A few years ago I was brought into a large company to advise it on some issues related to employee experience. This organization had values that included some of the ones listed above. When an organization says it values are trust, fun, and transparency, then I would expect to see these values reflected in the actual workplace. However, in this particular instance I found the exact opposite. Employees all had to commute and work 9 to 5, there was no communication or collaboration, the workplace attire was extremely formal, the entire floor was lined with cubicles, employees all looked unhappy, and the CEO’s response to why he didn’t want to change anything was, “It was like that the day I got here and it will be like that the day I leave.” Although the organization still exists, I wasn’t shocked to learn that some of its divisions have either filed for bankruptcy or have been sold off. There’s really no kind way to put this, but as an organization if you say you care about and believe in something and your actions don’t reflect that, then you are lying to yourself and to everyone who interacts with you.
It’s not enough to just have values, communicate them, or even to have employees memorize them–values need to be physically manifested in the spaces in which employees work. In other words, if you were to walk around the organization, would you actually be able to see your values come to life?
Your home can say a lot about who you are. Everything from the paintings or photographs you hang on the wall to the color of the walls to the type of dining table to even the types of towels and soaps you put in the bathroom speaks volumes. When you walk into someone’s home, you get a better sense of who that person is, and when you walk into an organization, you get a better sense of the type of organization it really is.
Facebook, which scored highest out of all 252 organizations on the Employee Experience Index, has five core values, which are Be Bold, Focus on Impact, Move Fast, Be Open, and Build Social Value. If you visit the Facebook campus, you can quite literally see the manifestations of these values. Whether it’s the mainly open floor plan, the eclectic art that adorns the workplace, the ability of employees to quickly move around the campus to work anywhere they want, the diverse group of employees, the business leaders who come speak to the employees, the customer stories that are shared, or the fact that employees are encouraged to speak up to share their ideas and feedback and even challenge their managers–you can absolutely see the values come to life.
I was at an executive customer board meeting for a large technology company not too long ago. One of the attendees mentioned that one of his company’s core values was do the right thing and asked how they could possibly show that value manifested in the workplace. I was honestly a bit stuck. Then another attendee chimed in that his organization also had this as one of its core values and brought this to life by having on-site battery recycling, charitable contributions, and guest speakers from social impact organizations and by consistently promoting ethical and sustainable business practices to employees. This is an amazing way to help employees see this value come to life!
Culture and technology take some time to absorb and get a feel for, but the physical space is something you can see and immediately make a judgement about. Remember, the physical space acts as a type of symbol for the organization and as a modern-day employee experience center. This is why one of the quickest ways to ruin an employee experience is by the organization not reflecting the values in the physical work environment. If you want to get a good sense of an organizational culture, then start by looking around the workplace. It’s something we can spot and notice on day one.
Take a few moments to write down your company’s values and walk around the office to see if those values come to life. If they don’t, think of how you can transform the office into a place that truly represents what the organization stands for.
My new book, The Employee Experience Advantage (Wiley, March 2017) analyzes over 250 global organizations to understand how to create a place where people genuinely want to show up to work. Subscribe to the newsletter here.