The View from HR

View from HR: A company’s cultural values should match how they treat employees

CorrespondentJuly 12, 2014 

Managers talk quite a bit about improving their “workplace culture.” Culture issues can be detrimental to a positive business environment, and we often work with employers frustrated with their employees’ failure to “live the values” of the company.

The typical conversation goes like this: “The leadership team has decided that employees who deliver our product or service need to exhibit company values. If they really believed in those values, and lived them every day at work, what a difference it would make in sales, repeat business and service quality!”

Who can argue with the theory? Sadly, there is often a big gap between theory and results. Why should employees care about your leadership team’s cultural values?

There are always employees wired to do their best, learn, improve and excel, regardless of how well or poorly they are treated. The real opportunity here is to elevate the work habits and results from the 50 percent of staff who would readily improve if given a good reason!

Three themes come up when we push back on frustrated employers who have bypassed the hard work and gone straight to producing a communications campaign focused on culture.

Fair deal?

Most people will not engage with company needs until their own basic needs are met. Are you paying a wage for the skills you need (including this culture/values requirement) that will attract and retain the right people in your market? As a company, do you treat people in a way that matches your own written values? Until pay, benefits and basic treatment support the behaviors expected, you may fail.

Good role model?

Most employees care less about the values or culture of a company and more about the values and behaviors of their manager. Do they have a relationship with someone who cares about them and lives the right behaviors? It is time and money wasted to talk about improving customer service when every day is a bad day at work. Invest in a good coffee maker instead.

Path to success?

Employees may ask themselves: “OK, so my reasonable pay/benefit/treatment needs are met in my role. I have a good manager who lives the company values and communicates well. Now, what will life be like for me if I rise to the occasion and internalize those values?”

This last question is the most important of all.

“If I successfully serve customers in the right way with the right behaviors and the right values, what is in it for me?” If the answer is “you still have a job” or “more-cents-per-hour,” then give up now on converting that other 50 percent of your staff. People need to see how their behaviors will be recognized and lead to a future state they want. How other employees have already benefited (or not) is an employee’s best gauge of their own future.

So, the next time a workplace conversation heads down the “how do we get them to behave better?” road, have a real conversation about these three basic needs before crafting a plan to improve workplace culture.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 NC employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit

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