The values poster is killing internal culture

13 May, 2016

Values can be inspiring but rarely are the transformative for a business. Too many companies struggle to imbed their values within their business. Why?

I think the answer is that companies seldom create ways for their people to participate in a manner that reinforces the expected behaviours. But some forward thinking companies do, and their lessons highlight a glaring gap that we’re seeing more regularly. The gaps is: Some companies tell people what they expect and put posters on their walls to reinforce what they’ve just said. While other companies create rituals that encourage their people to participate in activities that align to their values and reinforce required behaviours.

I was fortunate enough to hear the ex VP of User Experience and Product Services, Rochelle King, share her story about her time at Netflix. Netflix believe that debate is foundational to their culture. And if your company culture is all around debate you need your people to be skilled at articulating an argument. To reinforce this value, Rochelle staged debates within the company. They debated in all sorts of formats too: One-to-one and three-on-three. Netflix employees would debate hot topics within the company at the time. E.g “Netflix has a culture of fear – pro and con”. They even assigned people against the way they would normally argue (now that's how you encourage empathic behaviour).

Rochelle believed these competitive debates created a safe environment for people to practice debating. It helped people to become braver. People said what they were thinking in their heads but weren't willing to say publicly. These debates helped people to develop and improve skills and behaviours that were critical to their success.

At Ocean we have a long standing ritual aligned to our values. Every Monday one of our team has 10 minutes to present something they find inspiring to the whole team (we call it 'Inspiration Sensation'). It reinforces our internal values of Dive Deep (Seek understanding and insight) and Catch the Wind (Inspire ourselves, our clients and each other).

Rituals can be both organisation wide and team level. Your organisation wide rituals might be more grand and driven at a senior level. Whilst individual teams can create their own unique rituals that are personally meaningful and relevant. These rituals might even be more functional. I.e a team that values leaning might create a weekly ritual where team members share something they’ve learned. Or an organisation that values environmentalism might create a ritual where all new staff spend time working for environmental charities that align with their own organisation. The point is that these rituals can be big or small. The only constraint is that all rituals must align to the culture and values of your organisation.

When was the last time you changed, or adopted a new behaviour because you were told to? Change only comes from new habits, from acting as if, and from experiences. I challenge you to be a part of closing the gap between organisations who’s employees are living their values through rituals, and the organisations that churn out new (but the same old) posters about their values and behaviours. If your not seeing the change you seek within your culture, create ways for your people to participate in a way that encourages the behaviours you’re seeking.

Disclaimer: Beautifully designed posters that illustrate your purpose or values can be a compelling way to communicate. But it's a one way piece of communication that's not immune to billboard blindness. People may initially recall the message. But in just a few weeks after the novelty wears off, the posters start to blend into the background, become part of the noise and are passed by without a second glance. 

Here’s the link to Rochelle King's 99u talk: 'Your biggest rival is your biggest asset.'