value insights

Values-driven Corporate Culture – Valutrics

A corporate culture is the system of values, beliefs, norms and behaviours that creates a certain organizational climate. Tangible factors such as the external environment, technologies, organization size and structure, generation makeup, corporate environment, leadership and management styles also influence the corporate culture. Creating a values- driven culture is an essential leadership role. It underpins trust and confidence that can sustain the reputation of the information service as an employer of choice, a quality service provider and entity demonstrating ethics, good governance, accountability and social responsibility in challenging times.
Strong cultural values are important to information services as they provide employees with a sense of what they ought to be doing, and knowledge of how they should behave consistent with organizational objectives.

Corporate culture is the product or outcome of behaviour patterns and standards that have been built up by individuals and groups over a number of years. High performing organizations are frequently found to be adaptable and values driven, having a strong corporate culture that guides beliefs and values upon which all policies, decisions and actions take place. Their values define and drive the culture and help ensure that all in the organization know and understand what is expected of them. By sharing and ingraining a set of forward thinking values that guides actions, decision making and behaviours, organizations can be less bureaucratic, less hierarchical and more flexible. Employees not only share the same values, they also share the same vision, exhibit trust and collaboratively strengthen the competitive edge as both an employer of choice and leader in the field.
Continuing this theme, it is not surprising that values based leadership is also grounded in corporate culture. Strong corporate cultures have strong leaders who are clear on and keep people focused on the vision. They are also effective in using organizational values as the basis for decision making and translating cultural values at the organizational level into behaviours at the individual level. As a result, getting to know the corporate culture is one of the first tasks that a manager should do when joining an organization, as without this knowledge the manager will be less than effective.

Service integration, the global digital or virtual nature of organizations and the presence of different generations in the workplace are contributing to a cultural revolution caused by a prevalence of different corporate culture types and sub-cultures in organizations that need to be expertly managed in order to achieve the right balance of local values and behaviours with the overall corporate culture. Examples being:
• Reconciling the functional differences between traditional work units such as software development, libraries and records management, or cultural services such as art galleries, museums and historical organizations;
• Recognizing changing values and attitudes to the workplace between age groups in the workforce; and
• Helping others understand the use of languages, meanings and contexts that can vary on a geographic or national basis.

Background of values-driven corporate cultures
Leadership plays an important role in how effectively values-driven corporate cultures are developed, nurtured and communicated, and consequently on the ultimate success or demise of the organization. The influence of senior executives in maintaining a positive and forward thinking corporate culture during chaotic and challenging times cannot be underestimated. The activities and behaviours of senior executives and managers that are reflected in the basis upon which they make decisions, their desire for organizational clarity, and their attitude towards the future, innovation and creative thinking, their staff and customers all shape the corporate culture. They determine whether the culture is progressive, outward looking, values driven, innovative and service oriented, or traditional and inward looking.
Sitting alongside today’s influence of the leader is the historical perspective. In information services where traditions and values can be deeply rooted, certain behaviours and customs become deeply ingrained.

New employees quickly have to learn how the organization operates in order to ‘fit in’. Many of these behaviours are tangible issues, such as whether appointments have to be made to meet with senior executives, or whether employees are encouraged to make suggestions to better the organization. Others are more intangible, such as an acceptable topic of conversation in the lunchroom (there may be taboos on certain subjects), who goes to lunch first or whether superiors are addressed formally by title, or informally by first name. A values-driven culture will simplify traditions and historically-based values as the culture will instil a sense of unity in how employees undertake their duties, discharge their responsibilities, make decisions and conduct themselves individually.

The person who establishes the service creates the initial, and usually the strongest, corporate culture. This is achieved through both conscious and unconscious acts. For example, their values and beliefs will be translated into policies and procedures. They will tend to recruit staff who share the same ideas and values. These values will then be unconsciously manifested into norms and behaviours over a period of time. If the culture is strong and effective, it will remain long after the founding person has left the service. In the case where a culture has ‘served its usefulness’ and is no longer relevant to today’s challenging and changing world, a new leader is required to nurture and recruit the right people for the next step in the organization’s life cycle.

The managers’ styles and behaviours must be congruent with the organization’s corporate values and behaviours whilst balancing changes that might arise from growth opportunities and the need to transform the organization. Employees will look to their managers to shape shared meanings, define and create values and demonstrate corporate beliefs in times of change. Managers will often find themselves having to deal with changing circumstances and impacts on their own personal position whilst supporting and empowering their people to manage change.

To add to these dilemmas, differences between corporate and professional beliefs and values will often surface during times of change and can result in personal inner conflict and conflict between groups. For example an organization may have a political philosophy or belief that certain services should be delivered on a user pays basis: a belief that is most likely to be reinforced in order to sustain services in a time of financial constraint. However this corporate belief may be at odds with long held individual and professional beliefs that services should be delivered without charge. This situation may result in individuals having an inner conflict between their personal belief that the services should be available free of charge whilst at the same time having to ensure that they and fellow team members implement the policy. In this situation group conflict might also arise between the finance personnel who have led the policy shift and the professional personnel who need to implement it against their professional beliefs.

Similarly, differences in professional beliefs will also be emphasized when entities such as libraries, art galleries and museums are integrated. In these situations the information services manager will not only have an important role in assisting their staff to come to terms with differing or conflicting professional beliefs or values, they will also need to promote a single unifying culture and reconcile the underlying sub-cultures of the different entities over time. Likewise, where 24×365 virtual services may be offered through a global alliance the different languages, cultures and styles will need to be taken into consideration.

The cultural context of knowledge and information sharing that is the bread and butter of the information services assumes a greater level of importance in knowledge-intensive organizations than it has in the past. This is because in traditional cultures knowledge and information were sources of power and jealously guarded by those who had access. Today the emphasis has shifted to knowledge enabling and information sharing as being critical leadership traits in developing strong relationships with staff and stakeholders and making sense of change and complexity in the environment. These are in turn supported by values of openness and collaboration.

Strong values-driven cultures are created, sustained, transmitted and changed through social interaction. This can be through modelling and imitation, instruction, correction, negotiation, storytelling, gossip and observation. They are communicated and reinforced by organization-wide action. High-performing information services ensure that they have well-conceived human resource programmes that reinforce the culture.
Values and a strong culture sustain individual behaviour and provide meaning, direction and motivation for members’ efforts. Everyone knows the information service’s objectives; people feel better about what they do as values such as excellence, fairness and integrity prevail; there is transparency and accountability about the organization and, as a consequence, people are likely to be more committed and motivated. No matter how distant the work units are from the organization’s head office, all sites are treated equally. This is important in information services, where work unit sites may be geographically dispersed over wide areas.
Conversely, poorly performing information services may still have a strong culture, although this may not necessarily be an effective or healthy one. In these cases the pervading culture is often dysfunctional, focusing upon internal politics rather than external commitments such as clients’ needs.

Organizational sub-cultures arise out of the functional differences between departments in information services. These include the use of different technologies; the identification of different values and interests; the use of different terminologies or languages; the employment of different approaches to problem-solving techniques; and the different aspects of the interactive external environment. Sub-cultures are natural, healthy phenomena unless they interfere with or detract from the overall corporate culture.
Sub-cultures can also be based on gender, occupation, status, task, tenure, age group or ethnic origin of the work group. Socio-economic and educational backgrounds can also lead to sub-cultures being formed. In strong cultures sub-cultures do not cause problems as the overall values and beliefs are clear. However, in weak cultural environments they can be very destructive as they may obscure overriding values and result in cultural drifts.

Corporate culture types
Information services can have many different corporate culture types. In small operations there should only be one culture. This should reflect the corporate culture of the parent organization. In larger information services, where extensive differentiation occurs, more than one culture may exist.
Differences in corporate culture types arise out of organizational influences such as organization structure, the amount of risk associated with decision making and feedback received from the environment. It is important to understand the culture type in order to minimize those aspects that might be harmful to the future of the organization as well as being able to work effectively within and with it. There is no universally correct culture. The culture of the organization should be appropriate for the circumstances and the people involved.

Values are core to a values-driven organizational culture and the basis of human activities. In challenging, chaotic and complex times they provide the anchor upon which difficult decisions can be made about the organization’s and individuals’ future. Values:
• Have a moral dimension and influence the beliefs and attitudes of individuals and groups in that they comprise those matters most important to an individual, group or organization. Examples of such values are honesty, openness and loyalty;
• Contribute to the corporate climate by reflecting desired behaviours or states of affairs and influencing people’s perceptions of situations and problems, choices, preferences and decisions. Consequently the corporate values should be shared between management and their people. Examples of such values are respect for others, their professional expertise and backgrounds;
• Transcend both contexts and experiences and can be used in tough decisions in complex situations that have not been experienced before; and
• Can be the preferred mode of decision making as they can be used to create the future that people want to experience.

Corporate values espouse clear, explicit philosophies about the information service’s or its parent organization’s objectives. Information services and their parent organizations may not necessarily share common values. People with different roles, expertise and functions who are employed in different work areas can place different emphases and value on work processes, timeframes, behaviours and priorities. Likewise, different generations in the workplace may hold different values about the nature of work and work–life balance.

Whilst all might have a customer focus and are of equal value to the organization, their own values pertaining to their roles and expertise within the organization will differ. For example differences in values often occur between people with a specialist and administrative background, or between people with a strategic focus and those providing technical support. This may cause each to view the other with suspicion. Consequently the reasons for these differences need to be acknowledged and understood.
Sometimes differences occur because people in one work group do not fully understand the roles and functions of the other work groups. They are not aware of each other’s contribution to the organization. They only see the others’ roles in the areas of work that immediately affect them or where the work unit boundaries overlap. Often people with different role functions will be physically separated from each other, which will further reinforce their differences. Despite the advantages of email, geographic isolation means that there is a lack of spontaneous face-to-face communication where personal alliances and understanding can be established. Motives for actions will also differ. For example, finance or administrative staff may value their ability to make savings in expenditure for the organization, whilst the front line or service delivery personnel may wish for more money to increase their opportunities for customer service delivery.

As a service organization in an innovative environment, the information service’s highest order values may be used to reconcile these differences and minimize the effect of differentiation. All groups should be able to adopt generic values such as innovative thinking, excellence in service delivery, a commitment to quality and continuous improvement, respect for individuals and their privacy, ethics and integrity, and openness and accountability. These values are in turn reinforced through the values statement.
The values statement is an important tool through which the organization can communicate its expectations regarding the behaviours of individuals towards each other.

An orgatization with a strong customer focus would have this value statement:
• Excellence – quality products and solutions
• Innovation – creativity and inspiration
• Achieving – performance and results
• Flexibility – responsiveness to customers and change
• Ethics – integrity and openness
• Respect – for others, ideas and opinions
• Equity – in the service and the workplace

Corporate values also provide the opportunity to develop trust and an ethical philosophy within the information service. Appropriate and workable ethical principles, values and behaviours can be developed and reinforced through the corporate culture. Personal integrity is reflected in empowerment, pride, recognition and self-respect. Professional drive, or ‘new thinking’, is related to change and quality management oriented values such as care, creativity, entrepreneurship, flexibility, innovation and quality consciousness. Social skills are emphasized through values of recognition and team spirit.
How beliefs, norms, shared meanings and behaviours contribute to a values-driven culture

Beliefs are the acceptance or convictions about values. They are to a great extent shaped by the consistencies or inconsistencies between values statements and actions or behaviours of senior executives within the information service or parent organization. If there is consistency then their actions will influence the beliefs that would be expected to evolve from the stated values. Inconsistencies between values statements and actions will result in different beliefs and weaken the organizational culture.
To be successful, corporate beliefs should be visible, known and acted upon by all members of the organization. This can only be the case if they are communicated throughout the organization and reinforced through human resource management processes, recognition and rewards. They then become permanently infused and accepted as the norms by which the organization exists.
Rites and ceremonies are efficient and effective methods of communicating and instilling beliefs into an organization. In performing these, people make use of language, gestures, ritualized behaviours, artefacts and settings that heighten the expression of beliefs and shared meanings appropriate to the occasion. Logos also represent organizational symbols with which people identify.

Norms are standards or patterns of meaningful behaviour that are passed on to others through modelling, instruction, correction and a desire to comply with others. When people interact they exchange words, tones and pitches and non-verbal behaviours such as gestures, appearances, postures and special relationships. This interaction forms patterns that, after repeated use, become accepted as the rules and systems that determine everyday behaviours and are transmitted unconsciously within organizations.

Shared meanings are different to social norms as they focus upon message exchange, interpretation and interaction sequencing. Shared meaning assumes that people have similar attitudes, values, views of the world and feelings about situations. Most positive actions take place on the basis of shared meaning or on an assumption that people in the same situation share common experiences and viewpoints. Shared meaning is consequently the system that allows actions, events, behaviours and emotions to take place.
Shared behaviours guide values driven work practices, decision making and dealings with customers, clients and people in the workplace. They set the standard of interaction and service that builds the image of the information service. Examples of shared behaviours that may be emphasized by the information service include listening to and having a mutual respect for customers and other people, solving problems as they occur, or behaving in an ethical manner.
Shared behaviours influence the operational environment of organizations. For example they often determine how:
• Issues are identified and addressed;
• Decisions are made and communicated and who is involved in decision making;
• Work is organized and delegated;
• Actions are taken;
• Flexible the organization is regarding work practices; and
• Technology is viewed.

Creating an innovative environment
Creating an innovative environment requires both strong leadership and skills in change management. This is because creativity has both positive and negative forces within organizations. It is both a producer and manager or minimizer of conflict. Creativity produces change that further creates conflict. Creativity can also be used to manage resistance to change and conflict.

The conversion of conventional work practices and values into ones that are entrepreneurial and risk taking takes considerable leadership skill and foresight. A values-driven culture needs to be created that not only values knowledge sharing, ideas generation, open communication and entrepreneurial thinking, but also sustains that commitment year after year. This means a major shift in the values for some people, not just a slight increase in awareness of entrepreneurship or the establishment of one or two new programmes or activities for the year. The people leading the change will have to champion their cause, motivate and prepare others to readily accept change.
People must be receptive to innovation and willing to perceive change as an opportunity rather than a threat. Most people are creatures of habit and resist change, seeing it as threatening their existence. It takes leadership skills to create an environment in which change is encouraged and accepted as the norm.

Creating an innovative and creative corporate environment as described above requires a culture that supports risk taking without penalty when mistakes occur. Management must be willing to take risks and allow their people to make mistakes as part of the learning process. If failure means the loss of a job or not being given the opportunity to try something new again either on a group or individual basis, creativity and innovation will be discouraged. Furthermore, the corporate culture will hold the belief that if you value your job, it is not worthwhile to attempt anything difficult or challenging.
Risk taking is a balancing act. It does not mean proceeding with an action prior to considering all its possible consequences, and it is important not to create an impression that only winners get promoted. It is about creating an environment where everyone is valued for bringing their bright ideas to work rather than leaving them at home, where there is a culture of asking ‘how’ rather than ‘why’, and people are comfortable with offering ideas that have been thought through.

Creativity and innovation are dependent upon open communication channels to share knowledge and new ideas. Unnecessary bureaucratic procedures and lines of authority can stifle the exchange of ideas and experiences between people. Whilst everyone should be encouraged to be creative, divergent thinkers should be particularly motivated and encouraged to share their ideas with others. Individuals with talent should be recognized and persuaded to champion their ideas.

Successful organizations are designed to encourage creativity and change. Organizations that consist of small teams or groups are more likely to foster creativity as new ideas and fast action can flourish without bureaucratic overheads. Strong lines of authority often prevent initiative and creativity. Organizational structures also influence the behaviours, communication and interactions of people. A structure that facilitates the sharing and testing of ideas is a prerequisite for creativity and innovation.

An innovative climate is reinforced through policies and practices that encourage opportunistic practices. Whilst some people will be more creative than others, everyone has the capacity to contribute new knowledge and use their ingenuity regardless of their background and experience. Even the most unusual idea should be given consideration by management. People should be given the freedom to try new ways of performing tasks and their successes celebrated. Challenging, yet realistic, goals should be set and immediate and timely feedback on performance given. Participative decision making and problem solving should be encouraged. Responsibility should be delegated to allow staff to be self-guiding in their work.
Personal development strategies allow for creative pastimes. The balance of right and left brain activities is necessary to assist personal growth and achievement. Creativity can also play a part in making personal career decisions in times of contracting employment opportunities. Individuals who are creative in setting their career goals and who proactively seek opportunities to achieve these will be more likely to succeed than those who do not.

Innovative organizations generally have a culture where acceptance of responsibility and a commitment to the organization goes beyond the individual’s functional role. The organization exhibits pride and there is positive reinforcement of it being an employer of choice and a role model for others. Success breeds success and this in turn reinforces the commitment and dedication to the organization.
attraCtIng and retaInIng CreatIve talent
Innovative organizations go out of their way to recruit and keep talent. Accordingly, they put much thought and effort into the recruitment process and Leavy identifies three ways of recruiting creative talent:
• Hire individuals with a range of abilities and interests;
• Hire people with a variety of backgrounds and personalities; and
• Involve peers heavily in the selection process.

Corporate Habits
Many activities in organizations are expressions of corporate rituals, the consequences of which go beyond the technical details. Examples include induction, training, organizational development activities, high-profile sackings, and end-of-year celebrations or other festive occasions.

Rites of passage begin with the induction and basic training processes. These allow employees to part with their past identities and status and take on new roles. They minimize the changes that occur in the transition from old to new and re-establish the equilibrium in ongoing social relations. The induction interview with the Chief Executive Officer or the refurbishment of an office for a new manager is part of the incorporation rite. Retirement ceremonies and farewell parties are part of the rites of passage when employees retire or resign.

Rites of degradation take place when the Chief Executive or person of high authority is fired and replaced, dissolving his or her social identity and power. Such an action may be interpreted as the organization’s public acknowledgement that problems exist. As a consequence, group boundaries may be redefined around the previous close supporters of the executive. These supporters may or may not be incorporated into the newly formed groups. The social importance and value of the role are reaffirmed if the executive is replaced. If the position is not filled, it is an indication that it had no importance in the organization.

Enhanced personal status and the social identification of individuals who have been successful within the corporate or professional environment are provided for by ‘rites of enhancement’. Examples of such are the granting of membership to an elite group, or the granting of a fellowship or life membership to a member of a professional association. Such a membership is usually jealously guarded by those who have attained such status. Rites of enhancement spread good news about the organization and by association enable others to share some of the credit for these accomplishments.

Rites of renewal are provided in organizational development activities such as strategic-planning processes, job redesign and team-building programmes. These are rites that are intended to refurbish or strengthen the existing social structure and improve its functioning. The latent consequences of rites of renewal are that members are reassured that something is being done to correct organizational problems. However, they can be used to focus attention away from one problem to another.

Conflict reduction rites involve collective bargaining or feigned fights of negotiation where parties may become hostile, threaten to boycott or walk out of the negotiating process whilst the other parties speak of compromise, point to areas of cooperation and attempt to overcome the anger in a ritualistic way. These actions may deflect attention away from solving problems.
Other forms of conflict reduction rites are the formation of committees, advisory groups or task forces. Most of these groups serve to re-establish equilibrium in disturbed social relations. Confidence is often renewed when it is known that a committee or advisory group has been formed to investigate or advise on an issue.

Rites of integration encourage and revive common feelings that bind members together and commit them to a social system. Such rites are found in the corporate end-of-year functions. They permit emotions to be vented and allow the temporary loosening of various norms.

Communicating corporate values
Communication is both a consequence and an enabler of a values-driven corporate culture. A values-driven corporate culture is learnt and maintained through interactions between people in the organization. It is also expressed through language, symbols, myths, stories and rituals. Specialized terminology, corporate logos, myths and stories of heroes and their successes, receptions for important visitors and ceremonies to launch new services are examples of these. They are symbolic devices that serve to identify and reinforce the guiding beliefs and values upon which all policies and actions take place.

Cultural values are communicated and reinforced through the various human resource management processes. The selection interview, induction process, training and development practices, performance appraisal, career development and reward systems all provide opportunities for the cultural values to be communicated.
The induction process provides the ideal situation to communicate the information service’s philosophies and values and the associated management practices. Here the reasons why certain norms and behaviours are acceptable and others are not can be explained. Training and development programmes can reinforce the foundation values and philosophies.
The performance appraisal interview provides the opportunity for discussion, feedback and reinforcement of the required values and philosophies. Underlying sub-cultures may be detected and corrected if they contradict the overall culture. Incentives and rewards can be used to reinforce the important values and to initiate behaviours leading to good organizational performance.

Corporate stories, legends, slogans, anecdotes, myths and fairytales are also important as they convey the information service’s shared values. Anecdotes and stories provide the opportunity for people to share their experiences. The significant stories are those told by many people. These are the ones that are active in the cultural network and provide evidence of the corporate culture. Newsletters and emails are other examples where the corporate culture is communicated.
Stories of ‘heroes and villains’ provide an insight into corporate values and the personal qualities of employees who are likely to be successful or unsuccessful. The attributes of those heroes who are in high esteem emulate those qualities likely to be found in successful employees. ‘Villains and outlaws’ are those whose values or attributes were opposed to those of the organization. They provide the corporate guidance of ‘what not to do’. Villains are remembered long after they have left the organization for their ‘sins’. They are the outlaws.
The rules of communication are themselves part of the corporate culture. These are tacit understandings about appropriate ways to interact with others in given roles and situations. They are generally unwritten and unspoken. As prescriptions for behaviour, they function to coordinate, interpret and justify interactive behaviour and act as self-
monitoring devices. They provide guidelines as to what is acceptable interactive behaviour within the organization.

Leadership is the most important influencing factor on the values-driven corporate culture. Strong values-driven cultures come from within and are built by the founders and by individual leaders . The corporate values and beliefs can also be reinforced by the selection interview, induction process, training and development processes, performance appraisal interview and reward systems.