Almost every company I walk into has their values displayed somewhere. Often on the wall of the lobby in large font with beautiful art work. Very impressive.
But, it’s immediately evident that the values are either embedded in the culture and achieved every day or they are considered aspirational. The difference is stark!
Aspiration is good. But which type of aspiration are we talking about? There are two very different definitions of the word aspiration.
- A hope or ambition of achieving something.
- The action or process of drawing breath.
In some organizations, the values are aspirational. I was taken back by one CEO who very proudly proclaimed, “Oh yes, we aspire to these values each and every day.”
“Have you actually achieved any of them?” I asked.
“No, these are aspirational. We attempt to live up to them each day.”
In other companies, the values are aspirational. They are as natural and critical as breathing. When I asked another CEO about their values, his response:
“This is who we are. If we violate these, we die. If anyone violates the values, they’ll be called out immediately, no matter their rank in the company.”
Which aspiration defines your values? It’s obvious to me that the people who work and live in organizations believe values are the breath of the organization. When they’re violated, breath is taken away. Suffocation begins.
When they are treated as the breath of the organization, people know they are to live the values. They know there are consequences for violating the values. They’re quick to tell stories of people who have been asked to leave the company for not living up to the values.
However, when they’re treated as “Hoped for” values, they simply become a list of things that would be nice to have. They seem to come with an understanding that failure will happen but credit should be given for trying.
Sorry. As my grandfather used to say, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” When those values are displayed on the wall but not achieved every day, the conclusion of the people is lack of integrity. If you lose your integrity you lose your ability to influence. Leadership is only influence.
If you’ve published those values in your company and are not breathing them, you’ve forfeited your leadership. The only resource you have left is power and control and your organization knows it.