Alignment is an interesting concept, and in the context of alignment of an organization’s value of their people, the integrity of statements like, “our people are our top priority,” or “people are our greatest asset” comes under threat when in the same breath an organizational leader utters, “it’s not personal, it’s just business” when referring to the same people.
The topic of people, and people in organizations, is highly emotive, which is to say, it is never only business when people are central to an organization living its values.
As a people development professional, I am mindful of how aligned a company’s people systems are with its process and organizational structure.
I view my work through this professional lens to assess and respond with appropriate strategy – so when I was called in for a meeting to discuss possible suspension for an employee with talent development needs, I immediately looked to alignment.
Disciplinary Action or Strategic Intervention
The employee in question had a history of workplace issues that were monitored with disciplinary action threatened in the past. On the surface, the employee looked problematic, but beneath the surface, I noticed very little support and development was afforded him.
Part of my role in this situation was to work with both he and his line manager individually and jointly, to implement strategic interventions, and report on the status of the employee’s development to senior Human Resources (HR) leaders.
Unfortunately, very little progress was made, as the employee’s line manager was unable to balance maintaining his deliverables with meeting the development needs of his employee.
In the line manager’s defense, he was under constant pressure to meet growing demands, and received mixed messages from the organization. On the one hand, he was being engaged by HR to development his at-risk employee, and on the other, he was pressured by his own line manager to forgo this responsibility and continue to meet operational deliverables.
From an Organizational Health perspective, Patrick Lencioni would call this an example of accidental values. In his book, The Advantage, he explains there are four kinds of values – Core, Aspirational, Permission-to-Play, and Accidental.
Accidental values, as the name suggests, are the complete opposite of intentional values. They are not mindfully constructed, nor designed to inspire or motivate, and therefore, have unintended consequences: create values and behavior misalignment.
Values Misalignment = Confused Employees
A misalignment of values in an organization creates havoc with its employees. They become confused by the company’s core values, as they are now forced to reconcile the accidental needs of the workplace environment. In essence, they are left to fend for themselves, encouraged to behave in a manner inconsistent with the core values, and relegated to a state of survival mode.
Surviving ≠ Thriving
When employees in a company are set to survival mode, they are no longer able to thrive. Survival is an inhibitor to innovation and teamwork. Innovation requires confidence to be vulnerable to pitch new ideas publicly, and receive feedback.
At the heart of teamwork is the need to trust others, including the organization and its values, and again, the ability to model vulnerability. When the conditions to be innovative and work together are absent, a negative cycle ensures:
Meeting the Bottom Line
When an organization’s people are stuck in a negative cycle, it impacts the workplace culture. In situations like this, the organization’s core values can serve as a guide. However, when accidental values are present, they have the potential to impede access to core values.
Consequently, employees with talent or in need of customized development planning are exposed to unhealthy work conditions for which stunted growth is the likely outcome.
While this is more commonplace practice than not, what would organizations be capable of with the removal of accidental values and the restoration of its core values?
David is a leadership multiplier and organizational health practitioner, who is passionate about creating the conditions for sustainable success for people and organizations. His passion for sustainable success is grounded in the belief that all people and organizations can enhance their performance when the right conditions for success are intentionally cultivated at the workplace.