HAVE YOU CONSIDERED? Framed & Forgotten

Can you please explain what is meant by “values” and why organisations seem to feel obliged to have values statement? Our organisation has one containing 10 values. It is framed and on our boardroom wall but I have never seen anyone refer to it.

It is not uncommon for an organisation to have set of values that it believes should guide its behaviour. Nor is it uncommon to see those values framed, hung on the wall and then forgotten.
For ethical reasons managers often believe that organisations should have set of values. They are aiming to set ground rules for correct behaviour that will act as touchstone at times when difficult decision has to be made. They will choose values such as, “we will be good to our people” or “we will be responsible for our actions”. This works well provided that the values are realistic and are role modelled by the leaders of the organisation.
Research shows that organisations with good underlying ethical values tend to stay in business longer than those that don’t. Healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson provides an excellent example of company whose ethical values have added value. When someone spiked with poison one of its pain relief products, the management team decided to withdraw every single product item from the market. It did this because the company’s declared values said that it would never put customer at risk. The cost was enormous and had considerable impact on the company’s overall viability. However, this prompt action helped lift the company’s share price and strengthened its market position in the long term.
Values can also be used to define the generic behaviours that an organisation wants from its people to build and strengthen its operational capability. This enables the organisation to be strategic in building culture that delivers high level of organisational capability.
Good examples include 3M and Apple Computers where there is strong organisational value that developing new ideas and being innovative is very important. Other examples of values that drive organisational capability would be customer service, teamwork, speed and flexibility. These organisational capability values give clear signal of the underlying behaviours that are needed from all employees to build highly capable organisation.
When values are put into action they are visible as behaviours and can be measured using 360° feedback. Managers can see how aligned their staff are with the core behaviours needed for success and give appropriate feedback. This creates learning cycle that continuously builds and strengthens the overall capability of the organisation.
The ability to communicate and implement an organisational culture driven by the appropriate strategic operational values is key part of modern senior manager’s skills set. It is definitely worth considering having some defined values for your organisation provided your managers understand the strategic reasons for doing so.

I am thinking of going to an annual conference organised by the membership organisation that represents my profession. I run my own business and margins are tight so if I am going to spend money on conference it must add value in some way. Do you have any views that could help me make my decision?

Conferences vary considerably in quality depending on speakers, organisers, participants, location, the weather and host of other variables. The key issue is to view it as an active rather than passive occasion. Basically, you will get out of it what you put in. This means you have to do some work to gain full value. First, research the programme and ensure it is within your general area of interest. Next, identify the sessions that you will attend and your objectives in doing so.
Take time to look at the social programme if there is one and establish which activities you will attend. Set some goals for meeting people and making interesting and useful contacts. (Don’t overdo this as you can easily appear to be just hunting for business.)
Make sure that you won’t be distracted by work: leave your mobile phone in the hotel or car. key benefit of attending conference is having this time out to be exposed to mix of new ideas and take them on board.
Take notes. They don’t need to be massive but note down key points for later reference. Try to talk to as many different people as possible during breaks. It can be fun to see if you can touch base with every other delegate at some point. Give people your card and ask them for theirs so that you build up network of people you have met. If there is an exhibition associated with the conference, walk around and chat to people on the various stands.
When you are sitting in sessions or workshops consciously aim to identify question for the speaker at the end. You will feel good asking questions and again it will increase your participation and learning.
It can be quite trial just sitting in an auditorium for long time so go for walk if needed even if you miss session. This will increase your enjoyment and participation in the long term.
Finally, if you really want to get the best value from the conference, your job isn’t over when it finishes. Type up your notes and review them in relation to your original objectives. Try to see how new ideas could be applied to your own work. You might also consider giving presentation to other people on the key outcomes from the conference and their application to your work environment.

Kevin Gaunt, FNZIM, FAIM, is CEO of NZIM Auckland and has been senior executive with, and consultant to, some of New Zealand’s largest companies.

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