10th June 2015

Identify Your Contra Values

We’ve worked in a range of companies and now, as consultants, get to interact with many more, from large to small. Almost without exception, these companies have nothing but positive intent for what they want to deliver to customers and for the type of engaging workplace place they want to create for their employees.

When preparing to work with a new client we do our due diligence, reading Annual Reports, scouring web sites and company social media pages, talking to executives and the like. In doing so, we get a pretty good idea of what they say their culture and values are all about, and nine times out of ten, the foyer will have posters on the wall describing the company’s stated values . . . something like this . . .

Communication – We have an obligation to communicate.
Respect – We treat others as we would like to be treated.
Integrity – We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely.
Excellence – We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do1

We are called in by clients to help, and sometimes the reason we are in the client’s foyer is that some executives have left and we have been called into replace them, or there is a performance issue with a team, or someone’s career is derailing and they need some coaching. Whatever the reason, something ain’t quite right.

In talking about what makes these situations similar across companies and industries, we’ve realised that where there are problems of engagement and or performance, it’s not about what the organisation says it wants to do, but with the organisation’s ‘Contra Values’.
Contra Values are those practices and attitudes that exist in organisations that are either the opposite of your ‘stated values’ or work to negate the power of your stated values.

The table below has some of the more frequently used organisation values and some of the typical Contra Values we see as outsiders looking in:

Common Stated Values Typical Contra Values
Open Communication I ensure I ‘cc’ everyone on every email, just in case . . .
Collaboration We go to a lot of meetings with a lot of people in them and so it’s hard to get decisions made . . .
Teamwork Stay off my turf and I will stay off yours . . .
Accountability Make sure another department gets some of the blame when things go wrong . . .
Empowerment The Corporate Office will have the final say, so involve them at every step . . .
Customers First I’m more likely to lose my job over increased costs not loss of a customer . . .
Integrity Don’t get caught lying . . .

Now, every organisation will have people practicing Contra Values. It’s kind of like the bad bacteria in your digestive system. They are there and, like bad bacteria at low levels, Contra Values aren’t going to have much effect on the health and machinery of the larger organisation. However, when one or more build up to a point where they are highly prevalent, your ‘system’ goes out of balance. This has the potential to affect your employment proposition, or worse, your ability to satisfy customers and therefore your reputation and brand.

You will already know if you have the kinds of Contra Values that have the potential to derail your stated values. You know what’s going on so it’s up to you to do something about it.

Here’s the tricky bit. There is no point just talking to employees about Contra Values. That won’t kill off the Contra Values or get them back to low levels because talking to people doesn’t change people. Talking to people about values won’t change the way they work. Adult humans just don’t work that way. Somewhere, somehow people are being incentivised to hang onto their Contra Values. In other words you need to identify and root out that compelling reason that they hang on to a way of working that is in contradiction to seemingly self-evident power of the stated values of the organisation.

At this moment in time, in order to implement your strategies, what behaviours do you need to stamp out? What are your Contra Values and how are you addressing them? We’d love to hear from you.

1In case you were wondering, these are Enron’s Stated Values per the Enron Annual Report of 2000

Justin Miles
Managing Director;The Talent Workshop
Partner; Generator Talent Group


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