Values constitute the core of organizational culture and define “the way we do things around here.” Leaders that are attentive to employee value preferences foster psychological well-being and work engagement. But many organizational values statements serve the goal of external symbolism rather than internal integrity.
In a recent study , we measured the intrinsic value aspirations of (1) interpersonal supportive care, (2) contributing to make the world a better place, (3) personal and professional growth. We found that engaging leaders heed their employees’ intrinsic value preferences, leading to beneficial outcomes such as motivation, work engagement, and psychological well-being.
Conversely, we found that a leader’s focus on extrinsic orientations such as status, power, and financial success did not associate with motivation or engagement.
An additional study  found that employees think the organization has a lower preference for intrinsic orientations. Sadly, that perception proves realistic enough. Many public value statements are meant to groom a positive public image but do not translate into leadership behaviors or organizational principles. Despite well-formulated value statements, most listed organizations are steered on shareholder value and orthodox economic tenets with work values drenched in power, status, and financial success. Employees often perceive this as management hypocrisy .
Moreover, many publicly traded organizations have value statements that sound identical and, in cases, share more than semantic similarity . Renowned companies have even copied parts of other companies’ value statements .
Since the crisis in corporate ethics and governance in 2001 and the scandals that surfaced with companies such as Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, and Ahold, corporate value statements generally include a commitment to integrity (86%), customers (64%), diversity (57%), and entrepreneurship (52%) as the organizations’ principal values . But it remains unclear how these values contribute to the organization’s performance, if at all.
Most organizations do not actively involve internal stakeholders in the value statement formulation process – such as employees and mid-level managers, who are most impacted . Value statements are considered a “must-have”  rather than an instrument to promote sustainability or truly embrace ethics .
All in all, it is an opportunity missed!
Living your values influences organizational functioning, such as decision-making, accountability, and commitment positively. Values come to life in the day-to-day work environment when internally legitimized and internalized . Internalization of values means that individuals identify with them and enact them in their relationships with others [10, 11].
The internalization process is best supported when leaders in the organization enter into dialogue on values with employees . These dialogues should ask employees about their values and aspirations and how they experience alignment with the company’s goals and values. The conversation helps employees identify with the firm’s aspirations. Through this identification, employees may find ways to contribute to its realization.
The values dialogue increases psychological well-being, motivation and engagement, and, from research, we know that work engagement and business performance as strongly associated 
- Their level of autonomy, self-direction, and involvement.
- The quality, depth, and care in interpersonal relationships.
- Making a meaningful contribution to something of value.
- To be challenged in interesting ways.
- To be offered opportunities for growth and self-development.
It is high time to align day-to-day leadership behaviors with the organizations’ value statements. Not just for the sake of employee well-being or for putting your money where your mouth is, although these two reasons should be compelling in and of themselves. Moreover, aligning leadership and values may help restore the current low public trust in corporate enterprise .
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