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What happens when the values your company painstakingly put together don’t reflect how employees feel and behave? Growth strategies may fail, competitive advantages can erode, and talented resources will be underdeveloped or outright leave. No leader wants this happening on his or her watch.

Conversely, what if these proclaimed values are in harmony with the underlying culture that drives behaviors? The sky’s the limit.

Organic Values: The People Matter the Most

Organic values — which are the aggregate sum of real day-to-day behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs of the individuals – drive the culture of an organization. Organic values clarify to individuals and teams what is important and how best to get things done.

Unfortunately, organic values are usually not the same as the proclaimed values defined by leaders during the early days of an organization. This disconnect creates conflict and confusion for individuals inside and outside the organization. It can also be the case that proclaimed values represent the aspiration of the few – at the top – over the many at the bottom.

Organic values operate at the unconscious level within a group. The leader who doesn’t dig into the real personality of the group takes things on appearances only and ends up leading the wrong group or leading the right group in the wrong direction. Strategies fail, morale is bad, and people shift from doing the maximum possible to the minimum allowable. We must first acknowledge a group has an unconscious spirit before we can try to know it.

How Do You Get People to Share Core Values?

In today’s competitive, global talent marketplace, top-performers want to work at companies that embody values aligned with their own and as result, companies must be totally authentic and clear about who they are and what they represent. No business or individual can be inauthentic and successful today.

Really positive business results can come when leadership publishes values congruent with the informal company culture. It can be a like a fairy tale and reminds me of when Prince Charming, in his pursuit of true love, tries the glass slipper on Cinderella, and it’s a perfect fit.

So, how do you get people to share core values? The answer: you don’t. Leaders cannot install core values into people. Instead, it is imperative to find people who already have a predisposition to sharing the values of the organization, the glass slipper. Leaders sometimes need to get out of the way and let the values guide the way and trust that people will seek out an organization with strong values alignment and opt-out of those that don’t.

According to his book The Culture Cycle, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School James L. Heskett states that culture “can account for 20-30 percent of the differential in corporate performance when compared with ‘culturally unremarkable’ competitors.” Research has shown that top-ranked companies recognize that culture is critical to talent retention. When asked which elements of workplace commitment most benefit daily operations, culture comes in at 80 percent with recruitment/retention at 70 percent. Competitiveness, customer loyalty, innovation, and productivity – while still critical – fall much further behind, each under 20 percent.

With the right people, in the right positions, operating in harmony with the proclaimed values, many of the personnel problems that cause significant management issues disappear.

Know Your Teammates

When Enstoa started nine years ago, the management team had decided against drafting proclaimed values because we were too afraid of creating conflict with the unspoken, hidden and powerful values that really drove our culture. After years of significant growth without defined values, we decided to run an ambitious experiment to document know ourselves and document our organic values.

I asked a former professor of mine from Columbia Business School, Professor Paul Ingram, to run his values hierarchy workshop at our annual team meeting to put into words our organic values. Professor Ingram’s methodology helped individuals create a values hierarchy and answer questions like, “What are my most important values? What is my CEO value (the top value in the hierarchy)?” With our CEO value at the top, each of us created a personal hierarchy containing our top eight values. Collectively, we found that having to articulate our values with our teammates greatly strengthens our relationships and increases the satisfaction of teamwork.

With this raw material, we took the next step and formalized our values, our glass slipper. We have now published our eight values to the world and see them as the offspring of the organic values we documented at our annual meetup.

Ultimately, the right people working in congruence with an organization’s values don’t need to be tightly managed. The right people are self-disciplined, self-motivated, self-managed, self-learners and self-obsessively driven to achieve great results. Guide them, yes. Teach them, yes. Tightly manage and try to control them, no.

This environment allows leaders to emerge, flourish and have real impact. Can the employees and company then live happily ever after like Cinderella and Charming? That verdict is in the hands of progeny, but it is absolutely certain that building the right glass slipper today is so critical to the successful execution of an organization’s strategy.


Jordan Cram Headshot

As CEO of Enstoa, Jordan Cram believes technology is an essential enabler for organizations to continuously innovate and optimize performance. For over 15 years he has used smart technology solutions to streamline capital projects management with leading organizations worldwide in the Middle East, Europe, North America and most recently, Australia. Jordan has a BS in Architectural Engineering, Univ. of Colorado, MBA from Columbia Business School, and MBA from London Business School.

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