Espoused values don’t drive organisations to success

9 October, 2019
Espoused values

Why employees don’t behave as you desire

Just as every person has their own set of values, so does every organisation. When formalised, these espoused values are a statement of an organisation’s guiding principles and beliefs, and provide a meaningful keystone for behaviour at all levels of the organisation.

Unfortunately, there is often a misalignment between espoused values and actual behaviour – and when this happens, it affects your brand.


Espoused values versus basic underlying assumptions

Edgar Schein described an organisation’s culture as being driven by three factors:

  • Artifacts – the symbols, structures, processes and rituals that provide a common identity and a first impression of an organisation
  • Espoused values – the declared mission statement and core values of the organisation, and its principles and strategies
  • Basic underlying assumptions – the things that the organisation actually believes

It is these basic underlying assumptions that really drive organisational culture. These are the deep-seated beliefs that aren’t written down, but are widely known.


Misalignment of espoused values and basic underlying assumptions

Whatever your organisation’s espoused values, it is basic underlying assumptions that guide behaviour. When the two are misaligned, behaviours betray actual organisational culture – and this could be bad news for your organisation as it ceases to be what it says it is. Here are three examples of such misalignment

  1. Let’s say that one of your espoused values is ‘to act with integrity and honesty at all times’. This declared value should drive how your employees behave toward customers and each other. But underneath this, if your organisation’s internal philosophy is to bury mistakes so they don’t leak out to the wider market, then there is an immediate clash between your espoused values and your basic underlying assumptions. What you say does not match what you do.
  2. You may have the worthy value of the ‘customer being first’ in everything your organisation and its employees do. However, if commissions and bonuses are based entirely upon profits, then it is sales that drives behaviour – potentially leading to poor advice to customers.
  3. Another common value is ‘treating others with respect’. Yet behind closed doors, if your managers operate in an authoritarian and intimidating manner, this is likely to undermine any sense of respect that may exist.


How do you align espoused values and actual behaviours?

Your espoused values don’t tell your employees how to act, but rather should inspire them in how they act. These values should link into your business strategy, goals and ambitions, and align with organisational purpose. This gives people meaning to their behaviour, helping them to adapt their attitudes and actions in ways in which they feel comfortable. This empowering approach encourages employees to behave not in ways they are told to behave, but in ways they want to behave.

Posting your values on your website or across the expanse of the wall in your entrance lobby will not make employees behave the way you want them to. Creating a new organisational culture that shapes the way your people act requires you to inspire internal beliefs – people’s basic underlying assumptions. To do so, you should:

  • Create an environment in which people are listened to
  • Ensure that leaders and managers exhibit the desired behaviours
  • Align employees with your organisational purpose
  • Reward those who act in line with the required behaviours

When basic underlying assumptions are aligned with espoused values, you should benefit from greater employee engagement, improved collaboration, and better innovation. People should become more creative and receptive to new ideas. This will help drive your organisation toward its strategic goals.

To understand how our Learning Map could help give meaning to your purpose and engage your employees with it, get in touch with The Big Picture People today.

(To see how putting people in the picture creates a shared vision and helps set a concrete destination, read this case study.)

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