Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Leveraging the communications function to make organizational values come alive.

By Richard Gibbs

An annus horribilis. That’s the most accurate way to describe 2018’s cavalcade of stories of individuals and institutions whose questionable actions or blatant disregard for right and wrong vitiated organizational values.

As strategic communications counselors who need to understand the leadership perspective in times like this, it’s important that c-suite executives don’t send the message via communications channels that the only occasion to drive home the importance of organizational values is when a mistake or negative event occurs. Living your organization’s corporate values is a proactive 365-day-a-year job, not necessarily just a reactive one, and we as communicators have an outsized role to play in getting this message across the finish line.

Going back several years, I recall an anecdote involving an organization whose most senior executive resigned in a murky cloud of suspicion over charges that were to be brought against him for tax evasion.

The executive worked at an organization that insisted that candidates applying for jobs provide documented proof of their prior salary history before they completed an exhaustive hiring process. Care to speculate what type of documentation many would-be employees submitted as proof of their past earnings? Yes, (please, no prompting from the studio audience) you guessed correctly − their tax returns.

These are employees who saw an accomplished individual of immense wealth, power and prestige who, as the chief values officer, somehow conveniently forgot, spurned or ignored the corporate value of integrity. Then to top things off, embarked on an intricate web of deceit rivaling the tax haven shenanigans employed by shady “bad actors” detailed in the Panama Papers to evade millions of dollars in taxes.

No irony was lost here that integrity was constantly touted as one of the company’s most highly regarded corporate values. Integrity usually has a starring role as a foundational pillar of many an organizational values credo. At this particular company, the presumption was that if you did not have the integrity to be transparent and honest in recounting your wage history, how could the organization trust you as a future employee?

To me, the communications challenge that followed this chain of events revolved around how the company would move forward and ensure its stakeholder audiences that its corporate values were never “on holiday.” Customers, employees and investors were sure to question the corporate culture. How are everyday values made personal and relatable to this trifecta of audiences?

Here are a few suggestions or strategies for communicators to employ so that additional avenues are created to demonstrate to stakeholders − internally and externally − that your organization is serious about adhering and reinforcing the importance of core values every day.

•    Find settings or events that provide you the forum to deliver practical examples of how your organization lives its core values. Ditch the obligatory, jargon-laced corporate-speak and showcase real-life examples that are indicative of your organization’s values. For example, as a board member of the Village of Allapattah YMCA Family Center and Preschool in Miami, Florida, all of my board’s meetings begin by having someone share a “Y Mission Moment.” The Y Mission Moment is a forum to share a Y story about individuals who have benefited from the Y’s programs and services that allow them to live healthier, more productive lives. Anecdotes that communicate your organization’s values can be woven into speeches, presentations, employee recognition events or conversing with journalists on media conference calls or other informal settings.
•    Proactively communicate examples of organizational values via social media channels, e-newsletters, websites, etc., but demonstrate authenticity of voice when doing this. Be aware of timing and make sure the subject of your communication truly is the correct representative to uphold the values message.
•    Conduct a team project debrief following a communications project or event. Document opportunities missed to communicate organizational values that could be included in future projects. Proactively ask teammates to develop methods to take values-based “lessons learned” and apply them to projects.
•    Hold a strategic partner summit where key stakeholders are invited as part of an exercise to probe how corporate values resonate in real-life situations based on their engagement with your organization. Determine how the feedback from a values review session like this can better meet customer and stakeholder needs.

Whether your organization is a not-for-profit entity or a Fortune 500 company, workplace trends indicate that there are proven advantages to operating in an environment where continuous feedback is prioritized. Take steps now to ensure that you find ways to proactively and consistently communicate the importance of your organizational values as well. And here’s to wishing you an annus mirabilis.


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