The Values Gap: What happens when we don’t connect our values to behaviours?

If you had to describe what a positive working culture looks like, what would you say? What specific actions and behaviours would you look for? What values might it uphold?

The term ‘values’ is not a new concept. In today’s world, we often hear about the importance of organisational values in shaping our working cultures and behaviours, and defining who we are and what we stand for.

But too often, values end up being nothing more than words on a page; empty promises with no real call to action. Sound familiar?

The Values Gap

Defining ‘Culture’

According to renowned organisational psychologist Edgar Schein’s theory, culture is so much more than what a company claims to value; it’s about how those values are represented in real actions and behaviours.

He believes cultures are split into three levels: the physical elements we can see, such as our dress code and visible behaviours, the values our people say they uphold, and the values they uphold when nobody’s watching.

When our values and behaviours are not aligned, it creates a disconnect between what we say we do, and what we actually do.  

A term that sums this up perfectly is ‘culture theatre’: this is where a company’s values serve no real purpose other than to improve their image; and it’s far more common than you’d think. In fact, did you know that over a fifth of employees believe their company’s stated values don’t reflect reality?

To create a truly connected culture, all three elements need to be aligned. This can be achieved by creating a culture that supports our values and calls out behaviours that aren’t aligned with them.

When was the last time you witnessed your organisation’s values represented in a day-to-day context?

Values vs Reality

There may be no better example to help bring this disconnect to life than a global food retailer whose culture recently hit the headlines.

Whilst a quick look on their website suggests that they boast a positive working culture, prioritising values such as Integrity, Inclusion, Community and Family, recent reports suggest this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Workers as young as 16 are coming forward to speak about their experience of a ‘toxic’ culture where sexual harassment, racism and bullying are commonplace.

A female employee spoke out about her experience of ‘constant fear’ whilst working at the chain. She says she was advised to ‘steer clear’ of certain older male employees who were known to ‘grope’ younger girls.

She mentioned that one senior manager was openly racist and made fun of disabled people. So, it may come as no surprise that this particular organisation sits within the bottom 25% of similar sized companies in its ability to retain quality employees.

And this is far from an isolated incident; a multinational beverage retailer had a similar story. Whilst their mission is to ‘spread passion’ for their products, it seems the same passion wasn’t extended to their employee care.

61 employees penned an open letter claiming that the chain created a ‘culture of fear’ where burnout and bullying were rife. These claims have had serious implications for the chain, who went on to spend over £9 million repairing their culture problem.

These are just a couple of examples that highlight the impact of not connecting values to behaviours; some instances are much more subtle. For example, imagine one of your company’s values relating to ‘trust’, but every decision you make has to be authorised by a senior manager. Or perhaps one of your values relates to the importance of collaboration and teamwork, but it’s commonplace to work in isolation. 

What examples can you think of in your own organisation where values aren’t fully connected to behaviours?

How can employees feel empowered to challenge behaviours that aren’t aligned with values?

Bridging the gap

We need to do more. Our people deserve to feel safe, empowered and respected at work, and that starts with us upholding our values at every level. 

If we willingly overlook behaviours that go against our values, we send out a clear message to our people about what we really tolerate and what we don’t. When our people see this, they respond with action, creating a perpetuating cycle of negative behaviours.

As Steve Greunet and Todd Whitaker famously said in their book School Culture Rewired, ‘The culture of any organisation is shaped by the worst behaviour the leader is willing to tolerate.’

What behaviours are you willing to tolerate?

Creating a connected working culture requires more than eloquently worded values; it demands commitment to aligning those values with concrete behaviours. It’s time to go beyond words on a page and turn your values into action.

At Kultralab, we combine AI coaching and behavioural science to help you turn your values into actionable behaviours.

To learn more about how Kultralab is partnering with organisations to help them promote positive, long-term and sustainable behavioural change through our Kultra app, please get in touch – contact us.