The integrity and trust within work-culture is a term and theory that seems to be here to stay. Work-culture research studies, including the comprehensive research by Guiso, L., Sapienza, P., & Zingales, L. (2015), have unveiled the influence of corporate culture on organizational success. Their research emphasizes the role of perceived integrity among top managers and highlights the strong correlation between an organization’s culture and its success (Guiso et al., 2015).
However, the question remains: How should we address the nuances of organizational values, especially in an evolving work environment?
Values Beyond Proclamation
The study underscores a fundamental realization: Proclaimed values often seem detached from the organization’s lived reality. The true measure of an organization’s culture is not found in its mission statement but in the employees’ perceptions of top management’s trustworthiness and ethical behavior (Guiso et al., 2015). This sentiment echoes a blog post, ‘Core Values are Wasted Opportunities,‘ where I discussed the disconnect between proclaimed core values and organizational challenges. I wrote how the challenge was not the lack of core values but the “paternalistic and confusing messages sent by senior management.”
Integrity at the Forefront
Guiso et al. (2015) shed light on the pivotal role of integrity, linking it with performance, job attractiveness, and employee relations. However, they also point out the challenges publicly traded firms face in maintaining high levels of integrity. This underscores the need to view integrity as a value and a lived practice, making it central to an organization’s competency framework.
The Complexity of Governance Structures
Interestingly, the research also highlights how governance structures influence corporate culture. The presence of a significant shareholder, owning at least 5% of the company, often correlates negatively with integrity (Guiso et al., 2015). This insight underscores the importance of balanced governance structures that foster a value-enhancing culture.
The Fallacy of Universal Values
Organizational core values cannot be superimposed. Citing Jim Collins, “First, you cannot ‘set’ organizational values; you can only discover them.” Values are implicit, contextually and environmentally dependent, and deeply interactional based on the social group you are with (Bettencourt & Hume, 1999).
The challenge is not the lack of a list of core values but the attempt to simplify complex human behaviors into checkboxes. The promise of lifelong commitment in the workplace is a relic of the past. In today’s uncertain work environment, we must view values contextually.
Navigating the Value Continuum
A pragmatic approach to discussing and understanding organizational values is called ‘Continuum Mapping.’ Using a structured discussion on important organizational decisions using a values continuum. This process emphasizes treating adults as adults and promoting open conversations about values within contextual boundaries.
Strategies Rooted in Evidenced-Based Research and Contextual Understanding
- Discover, Do not Impose: Align with the insight that you cannot ‘set’ organizational values but can only discover them (Cardus, 2017). Have team discussions to hear, discover, and collectively create values from people in the work-culture rather than imposing a set from the top.
- Integrity in Action: Lean into the research by Guiso et al. (2015) highlighting the role of perceived integrity. Ensure leadership embodies and practices integrity, as it is intrinsically linked to performance and profitability.
- Re-evaluate Governance Structures: Recognize the potential influence of significant shareholders on organizational integrity (Guiso et al., 2015). Strive for balanced governance that prioritizes both shareholder interests and a value-driven culture.
- Contextual Value Conversations: Promote ‘Continuum Mapping’ as Cardus (2017) introduced to have regular discussions on pivotal organizational decisions. This method contextualizes values and ensures they are relevant and adaptable to evolving business challenges.
- Adopt a Dynamic Competency Framework: Recognizing the shifting nature of work and organizational commitments, prioritize competencies that align with the current context. Emphasize competencies that foster trust, uphold promises, and lead by example.
- Challenge Paternalistic Leadership Styles: Address the challenge of “paternalistic and confusing messages sent by leadership.” Encourage conversations that promote clarity, consistency, and a more collaborative approach.
- Promote Adult-to-Adult Conversations: Treat adults as adults and foster an environment where open, honest, and equal conversations are the norm rather than the exception. This will enhance trust, collaboration, and, consequently, profitability.
Understanding and shaping work-culture requires an interactional approach.
It is not about plastering values on walls but about fostering an environment where these values are the conversation-flow, spoken about in a way that points to better methods and models of working together and supporting the people’s and company’s goals and progress.
As organizations design their frameworks, embracing an understanding of the lived experiences of all stakeholders interacting within the organization is crucial. The ultimate aim should be cultivating a work-culture that attracts trust and a sense of belonging among all stakeholders.
Bettencourt, B. A., & Hume, D. (1999). The cognitive contents of social-group identity: values, emotions, and relationships. European Journal of Social Psychology, 29(1), 113–121.
Cardus, M. (2017, November 19). Core Values are wasted opportunities for teams & leaders. Mikecardus.com. https://mikecardus.com/core-values-wasted-opportunities/
Guiso, L., Sapienza, P., & Zingales, L. (2015). The value of corporate culture. Journal of Financial Economics, 117(1), 60–76.