With demographic shifts where millennials now make up half the workforce, modern day employees put a lot more emphasis in finding a “personal-organisational cultural fit” as well as meaningful work. They want to take pride out of what they do and work for institutions they regard to be honest, principled and humane.

Although there isn’t a shared definition for “Values-Based Organizations”, there is no question that over the last few years, they have gained ground over traditional “machine-like” institutions, which often suffered from rigid functional or hierarchical structures.

The Great Place to Work® Institute UK claims that organisations with a strong value-based culture yield better financial results and are more resilient when confronted with the unpredictability of the world around us (2014).

When senior leaders respond to questions relating to the most valuable asset of their businesses, more often than not, they’ll claim it’s their people. Such assertions are in fact value-based statements about their organisation. Yes, we all agree that people lie at the heart of any organization, and without people, even the most sophisticated technology and machinery would cease to function. But how many business leaders can ‘truly’ live up to their words? Surely, values should be more than just words; it should define organisational behaviour and serve as the guiding principle about the most important aspects of its business. It should help employees choose between right and wrong ways of working, and help senior executives make crucial business decisions. Yet a closer examination would reveal that most organisations find it difficult to fully manifest a value-based culture within their own policies and practices.

According to the Boston Research Group, only 3% of organisations fall into a “self-governance” category, “where individuals are guided by a set of core principles and values that aligns them with their company’s mission” (The Economist, 2011).

The interpretation of “value” itself is elusive. I, as an individual, know what my values are. But my values might be different to those of my colleagues or the founder of the organization I work for. In a collective context, when individual employees have different values, which guide his/her goals and behaviours with different intentions, this can damage trust, productivity, job satisfaction, and creative potential. And within our ever-evolving business contexts, having strong organisational values will not only reinforce collective efforts towards a common purpose, but also serve as a constant reminder of what we really care about as an organization.

According to the LRN’s HOW Report (2012), one of the most common challenges to embedding value-based practices within organizations has been attributed to the lack of sense of ownership by individual members of the organization. In addition, less than 50% of employees feel they are empowered to challenge established methods and practices within their organization, and only one in four exercise peer pressure to influence a colleague who they feel are not behaving in line with the company’s values.

With this in mind, perhaps the first step in initiating values-based organizations is to foster open conversations about the way we currently operate and cultivate an environment in which individuals can be trusted to do the right thing. After all, isn’t that the reason they were hired in the first place?

As a leader in your organisation, would you not encourage individuals of your company to question predefined values, which were often created several decades ago, when they feel these guiding principles are no longer adequate for purpose? Furthermore, should employees be expected to live out the values that are clearly not held by their senior management in their day-to-day practice?