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When human values and organizational values overlap

Reading Time: 6 minutes

An organization’s core values only have power when and to the extent that the humans in and around the organization feel a connection to them. When human values and organizational values overlap for employees, that’s when they are truly connected to their workplace. 

Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, shared to an audience at a conference that whenever she’s come upon a difficult decision or crossroads in her life, she’s been able to turn to “the well” of her values for guidance or direction. It’s those values that have remained constant for her while many other aspects of her career have been subject to change.

Burke’s not unique in that regard. All humans carry with them a set of values that guide them, whether those values are identified explicitly or just lived intuitively.

Of course, most organizations also have core values. They’re such an assumed must-have for organizations these days that it’s easy to forget that an organization’s core values only have power when – and to the extent that – the humans in and around the organization feel a connection to them.

How can you create the right conditions to foster connections between the people in your organization and your core values? Let’s look at three key ingredients:

1. Values need to be operationalized

Very few organizations deliberately create systems that ensure that values are considered in important business processes and inform decision-making. Doing so thrusts core values into the day-to-day conversation.

At Stories Inc., we make it a habit to regularly turn the camera around on ourselves. We take turns sitting where we typically ask our storytellers to sit, and we share stories on camera. 

The process has several benefits: a) it generates engaging content for our marketing channels; b) it puts us in the shoes of our client storytellers, making us more empathetic to their comfort levels when we’re optimizing our interview process; and c) it forces us to think about true stories we’ve experienced as a company that embody our core values. 

I love that ritual and all the benefits that come out of it. I especially love the third benefit, as it helps to operationalize our values. By conducting this exercise on a recurring basis, we force ourselves to regularly reflect on our values and hold ourselves accountable to living them. If in doing this process, we were to find that we can never come up with stories that support a particular value, we’d know that our team members don’t connect with that value, and so we’d reconsider whether it’s actually a value for us.

Here’s an example of a video that came out of that process:

2. Values need to be lived starting at the top

I recall hearing Simon Sinek share an example of the need for a company’s leaders to live the values for them to stick. Imagine there’s a company with ‘Honesty’ as a core value. One day, an executive assistant (EA) at this company answers the phone, and it’s a caller asking to speak with the executive. The EA, covering the phone with his hand, asks the executive if they want to speak with the caller.

‘I’m not here,’ the executive mouths to her EA. The EA tells the caller that the executive is not in at the moment. This seemingly insignificant action by the leader was actually a strong indication to her assistant that lying is okay (despite the company’s Honesty core value).

Leaders need to live an organization’s core values, even in (or especially in) the smallest of actions, or the values have no teeth. After all, what you do is who you are.

3. Values need to be communicated

The last ingredient to fostering connections between people and values is to communicate core values effectively.

That exercise I mentioned in #1 above? – you should be doing that, too (whether it’s with our help or not!). Create content that features team members sharing stories that embody the organization’s values. 

We spoke with a nurse, Charlie, at Ochsner Health System. We love his story and how it speaks very clearly to the Ochsner core value of Patients First:

By creating content that communicates your core values, you create a virtuous cycle:

employer brand cycle

The content connects team members to the values, keeping the values top of mind for team members as they’re making decisions and crafting processes, which in turn makes it easier to recognize examples of the values being lived by teammates, which in turn makes it easier to document those stories in pieces of content.

If your organization connects team members with the company’s values, involve them in team storytelling! Team culture content shows that your connection to your values is more than just words on the wall.

We also have a guide that will show you how to tell stories that prove your values and show them in action.

Download our guide, Communicating Core Values