As it appeared in the Daily Nation on April 24th, 2018

What do you value? What does your organization value? We value what we believe is important to us. At the individual level, some of us value our families others value their friends and others their jobs. Organizations on the other hand value different things. At a broad level, some value their shareholders more, others their staff and their customers, while some value all the three in equal measure. In determining what to value, individuals and organizations must choose between alternatives and determine priority levels.

What we value as individuals or as organizations is crucial in determining our identity. With time, what we value becomes a key component of who we are. Our values guide our decision-making, our attitudes and our behaviours. In our organizations, the values of the founders and the leadership team whether defined or unspoken play a major role in shaping our culture. A good example is the value that Sam Walton placed on service to the customer when he founded Walmart stores. That value remains core to the organization to date. Other organizations such as those in the oil sector are known to value safety. What does your organization value?

In our business schools, we learn about the need to identify core values.  As a result, many organizations in Kenya today have a list of core values. Unfortunately, most of the staff and even many leadership teams are unaware of their core values, their meaning or the relevance of the core values to what happens in their organizations on a daily basis. I recently interacted with a leadership team that was not aware of its company’s 10 core values. Most of these core values may have been cut and pasted from other organizations’ websites. Others values are simply developed from a strategic plan template without much thought about their importance to the organization. In many organizations, core values are not even defined; they remain a list of four to six values that mean nothing to most staff and even to the leaders in those organizations. Are you living your values?

Unless an organization is ready and willing to live the values they have identified as core to them, there is no need of having a list of values in their strategic plan or on their website. Over the years, I have been concerned by the number of organizations that list integrity as one of their core values. Many organizations do not live it and neither do they hold each other to account. In selecting integrity and not defining it, we lose out the opportunity to influence behaviour. To some, integrity may simply mean not taking bribes while to others it may mean much more. To me, integrity also means doing what I said a Iwould do when I said I would do it. The mere fact that integrity is a core value might even simply mean that the organization is concerned about lack of integrity.

Organizations hoping to build a strong culture must have a strong value system.  Fully embedding these values to culture of the organization should be every leader’s desire. A strong set of core values not only gives an organization a strong foundation but it also contributes to its survival. Organizations with a strong set of values are better placed to meet the needs of their shareholders, staff and customers.

Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy