Most organisations have guiding values. These values signal to employees and the marketplace how the organisation intends to pursue success. As employees begin to return to their workplaces, now is the time to review and refresh your values to better respond to the new business environment and be reassured you are meeting your employees’ social needs.


The Continuum of Values


Arrow Chart of Values


Academic research suggests that values lie on a continuum. At one end is foundation values, and on the other, vision values. Focus values are somewhere in the middle. Both employees and organisations can find themselves moving up and down this continuum, especially in times of crisis.


What Happens in Each Area of the Values Continuum?


  • When in foundation values, employees focus on how to protect themselves. Protecting their back comes at the expense of day to day performance.
  • When in focus values, employees trust their manager because they know what to expect. Managers behave in ways consistent with the organisation’s values. Employees can perform at their best. Together with their leaders, they can look towards a future vision of success for the organisation.
  • In vision values, employees are highly engaged. It is a win-win situation where employees are personally developing from their work experiences, and the organisation is reaping the benefits of high performing employees.

Good managers keep their people in focus values by behaving consistently with organisational values so that employees know what to expect. When managers or leaders say one thing but do another, people feel unsafe because of the mixed signals. Employees move down the values continuum to foundation values and are robbed of workplace satisfaction and predisposed to disengaging with the enterprise.

Values-led leaders behave in ways that are consistent with stated values. This consistency enables employees to move towards desired future states. Here, employees embrace new possibilities for themselves and their employing organisation.


The Effects of Covid on Values


The social and economic impacts of Covid-19 have demonstrated how uncertainty can push us towards foundation values; we “downshift” into survival mode. Leaders must now find ways to help move their staff back up to focus values. When this happens, employees can get on with their jobs, and the organisation can build towards a vision of thriving in its new context. Enabling employees to move back into focus values involves a lot of reassurance and trust-building. Employees need to know that leaders are focused on keeping them safe even as realigning organisational strategies to respond to the new normal. The additional benefit of working to keep employees in focus values is that it promotes psychological safety and well being and helps address the critical social needs of a post covid workforce.

Employees can only move to a future vision they can imagine, so leaders must be talking about the organisation’s vision. The pandemic has given everyone an experience of how quickly they can change when necessary and has enabled employees to hone personal skills in change management, so leaning into change has become a new norm rather than resistance to change. Leaders can leverage these new change management skills to help employees reengage or realign with the organisation’s values and contribute to building a shared vision of success.


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