The value of values

Published on
September 11, 2014

Many of us at Rowland have spent the best part of the past year embedded in client projects – working on site as part of client teams.

From a professional perspective, working directly with clients (often implementing one’s own strategy) is one of the most valuable experiences a consultant can have. It helps to bring home the reality of strategy implementation – arguably more difficult than strategy development. It provides unique insight into why and how strategies are embraced or resisted by those charged with their implementation.

Post–project evaluation typically reveals the usual range of keystone success factors – leadership, communication, internal capability, capacity and resourcing – but one factor that keeps coming up (anecdotally at times) is culture. How the organisation ticks. The embedded organisational characteristics that define it, and organisational habits that over time have become employee ‘short-hand’ to get things done.

It’s not until you are immersed in the culture of the organisation, striving to implement a strategy that has been approved at senior executive level, that it’s possible to get a clear insight into how great strategies can be derailed and conversely, mediocre ones can be improved upon and flourish.

So how can you tell if your organisation has a ‘can-do’ culture that embraces change and can deliver strategy?

Look to the organisation’s values.

Values, when true to the company’s character and culture, guide behaviour and inform decision-making at all levels. They are deeply embedded in the organisation across all manner of things – from processes and practices, to recruitment, succession planning, and reward and recognition – and they can give you a sense of what can realistically be achieved and how best to achieve it.

But it is important to look at both the published and the practiced values (particularly the latter).

The published values are easy to find. More often than not they are a stylised hexagon diagram displayed on posters in company hallways and kitchenettes.

The practiced values are a little more difficult to spot – they are the unwritten rules, routines and rituals that are practiced and rewarded.

Where the two are congruous – effective change is yours for the taking. But where there is a gap, you’ll need to learn how to read the fine print to get that project over the line.