The importance of values in a new company culture

Many of today's long-standing organizations have noticed a tremendous shift in the marketplace. The speed of business has increased dramatically, and those that can't keep pace or rely on outdated processes are left behind. 

François Nader, current CEO of NPS Pharmaceuticals, realized that the 20-year-old organization was being outpaced by leaner and more agile startups. NPS had taken a large hit when their latest treatment failed to receive FDA approval, resulting in major workforce reductions and an atmosphere of anxiety and stress. 

Nader assumed the CEO role shortly after the restructuring. He wrote in the Harvard Business Review that his first priority was to transform to a more streamlined and flexible business model. To accomplish this, he needed to instill a culture that was entrepreneurial, creative and cooperative– a far cry from the stiff, slow and fearful culture that was currently in place. 

He began by considering the elements he enjoyed most about his 25 years experience in the pharmaceutical industry. This led to identifying the values he deemed most important to reviving the company: integrity, respect, excellence, personal ownership, teamwork and fun.

Unfortunately, as Nader realized, simply writing down these words would not enact any changes or convince his employees of the benefits of transitioning the culture. Instead, he learned that he had to teach his organization what these values mean. 

What many fail to realize is that individuals often hold their own definitions of what these values mean. Simply painting the words on a wall or attaching them to company newsletters is an ineffective method of enacting change. Instead, Nader learned that these values needed to be taught by example, from the top down.

"My senior executives and I made our values the language of leadership. They were embedded in how we worked and communicated at every level. Credibility is truly at the core of building a values-driven culture," Nader wrote.

By embodying the values that NPS wanted to define their culture, leadership showed that they were more than lip service — they were rules that had to be embraced.

This message was made even more clear once the values were made a primary filter for performance evaluations. Adhering to the values was made to directly correlate to compensation, providing unignorable incentive for employees to embrace the new status quo.

Of course, sustained change requires nurturing and close monitoring to ensure employees don't slip back into past processes and attitudes. Recruitment should focus on finding new talent that naturally embodies the organization's values, especially for leadership positions. During periods of organizational change management, cultural fit and the ability to extol the virtues of change can sometimes be as important as technical prowess. 

Taking an organization that exists in a competitive marketplace in a new direction is a major undertaking. There are a number of challenges that can arise, and need to be dealt with strategically in order for resistance to change to be minimized. Change management consulting can help leadership ensure a smooth transition at every level of the organization, and protect the investment made in the new future of the company.