What matters most, and who decides?

matters most

Maybe you have had an experience similar to this…

A number of years ago I went to work for an organization that in the interviewing, hiring, and on-boarding process was very focused on, and proud of, its core values. And they were good values. The attention paid to them as I joined the organization made me even more excited about joining the organization. Once I got beyond the on-boarding process those values never made another appearance. They were not mentioned or referred to, and they did not drive behaviors and decisions on a regular basis. Not only that, but there were common behaviors and practices that actually ran counter to the espoused values, and some of these behaviors were even formally rewarded. This was also an organization where different divisions were actually encouraged to compete with each other which led to lots of interesting and loud and profane conversations. Inside the organization, how you played the game mattered very, very little.

What matters most in your organization? What are the things that actually inform behavior and choices?

In my experience there tends to be a lot of unwritten rules about what actually matters. Unwritten rules are typically not anchored in the espoused values of the organization, they are not anchored in the explicit policy or the performance standards and can often run counter to that stuff.

A couple of really common examples that I see of this…

Lots of organizations speak to the importance of “straight-talk,” telling the truth to each other, speaking up, etc. Yet I consistently find in those organizations that lots of employees know better, and frequently keep ideas, information and questions to themselves because of the real and/or perceived risks. If it is not your stated values and principles that really matter, what does? And who decides? And what are those decisions based on? Whether people on the payroll are willing to tell the truth to each other or not seems to me like a pretty big deal. If employees cannot do this, I have a hard time seeing how your culture is not a net liability.

More and more organizations have values, principles, and visions that speak very eloquently to the importance of diversity and inclusion. And many of those organizations make very little in the way of actual investment into diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion show up explicitly as part of what the company claims to be about, and yet leaders are still uncertain as to the “business case,” and can’t pay it any attention.

If what we say is important is not what is actually important…what does that say about us?

The gap between who you claim to be and who you actually are is a breeding ground for pathology and dysfunction.

What matters most where you work?

Be good to each other.

Upcoming engagements:

On September 10th, I am talking about Unconscious Bias at the 2015 Baystate Health Diversity & Inclusion Conference in Springfield, MA.

On September 21st and 22nd, I am speaking at the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA) Annual Conference in Orlando, Fl.

On September 25th, I am speaking at the 2015 Iowa Young Professional Conference in Carroll, IA.

On September 29th, I am speaking at the Montgomery Chamber Diversity Summit in Montgomery, AL, and am very excited to be returning to one of my favorites.

On September 30th, I am speaking at the 2015 Colorado SHRM Conference in Keystone, CO.

On October 1st, I am speaking at the 2015 NEHRA Conference in Falmouth, MA, another great event I am happy to be returning to.




  1. Duncan from Vetter

    This is a major mistake many companies do. They tend to exaggerate certain values to attract the best candidates. The truth is that this can never end right as people talk and in the end, more and more people will find out how things actually work. Unfortunately, values like credibility, team spirit, or honesty are valid only on the paper because the management is unable to implement them.

  2. Micole Kaye

    I love this post, Joe. I too have seen companies say “customers are the most important factor.” And, 5 minutes later, the managers vote to cut costs in an area that hurts the customer.

    My current job is completely different than the other. Almost every day, I hear the same motto that I heard during the onboarding process. It’s quite inspiring. The whole air of the two buildings even feel different. Amazing what a culture shift can do. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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