Values are the Wellspring of Organizational Culture
Benjamin Tonna, a sociologist from Rome, while working with Brian Hall first posited the idea of taking an inventory of the values in documents. When the idea was applied to significant documents in real organisations the results were astounding. It was claimed that 80% of the organizational issues could be identified from the results of this analysis.
When one reflects on this it makes sense for values are the well-spring of organisational culture—see below:
Figure 1. Values are the wellspring of organizational culture
Research from London's school of economics has identified that a company’s culture is eight times more influential on performance variance than a company's strategy or business plan, yet while over 90% of all organisations have a business plan or strategy, less than 5% have a plan for developing their organizational culture.
Where do an organization’s values come from?
Initially the organization’s values are the values of its founders. The organizational life-cycle (Figure 2) illustrates the evolution of an organization’s values and the three scenarios for its destiny.
- In the beginning the values are the values of the founders.
- If society values what the organization does as a result if it living the founders’ values then it will become successful and norms will emerge around the founding values in relation to “how-things-are-done-around-here”. It will be a highly cohesive organization.
- The organization’s success could go on for years, however, often complacency sets in.
- During the complacency phase one of two things may happen: (a) the organization loses touch with the values of its founders and strays to some other path which its clients don’t value, or (b) the values of society change and the organization ignores this, continuing to believe that what made it successful in the past will always make it successful.
- After complacency, if no attention is given to the organization’s values, comes decline.
- There are now only three possible destinies for the organization: (i) it ceases to exist, (ii) it continues to barely exist with none of its former glory, or (iii) it gives attention to the values of its founders, its people, its clients and society, and re-invents itself around new values.
Figure 2. The Organizational Life-cycle
Undertaking a values scan of the organization’s key documents is essential to gaining an understanding of the values of the organization. Two sets of documents matter, those prepared by the founders, and current strategic/operational documents (including internal newsletters, website ‘about us’ pages and the like). Comparing the values in the two sets of documents shows where the organization has come from and where it is heading.
Click the links below for a couple of examples of what can be done by scanning for value-laden words in documents, or even transcripts of people's speeches: