The South African Leadership Standard: Living the values
by Penny Abbott & Marius Meyer
Recent examples of corporate scandals can be traced back to a failure in the application of corporate values. Very few companies do not have clearly articulated values guiding the behaviour of their leaders and staff. Says Arisha Archary, HR Executive at Old Mutual: “The corporate culture is shaped by shared values, and good employers take steps to ensure their values and their employees’ values are aligned.” That is the reason why the draft South African leadership standard includes values as one of the five key elements of sound leadership.
However, the reality is that people come to the workplace with different values. Even good values like integrity and honesty mean different things to different people. Thus, the role of leaders is to ensure that there is a common understanding of values for the organisation and then ensure that these values are clearly communicated in the organisation, and embedded into its culture.
Furthermore, values guide decision-making. Just imagine what could have happened in the recent corporate scandals, if one person stood up and said: “I don’t think we should continue with this deal in this manner, it is against our values.” Unfortunately, this did not happen (or if it happened, the person was side-lined). Or, it was business as usual until a whistle-blower decided to spill the beans, or when investigators or the media did their own homework to expose the truth. Moreover, the working group developing the leadership standard in September, also insisted that leaders must take action against those not living the values, referred to as “toxic leaders” in the standard. Hence, ten fundamental requirements for good practice have been developed, as well as six key questions for leaders and their teams:
Leadership Standard Element 3
LIVING THE VALUES
The collective leadership of the organisation has developed through consultation a set of clear values (principles and norms) which underpin all decisions and actions in the organisation and promote an ethical culture. These values are clearly communicated and are seen to be consistently lived by the collective leadership. The reputation that the organisation earns is clearly linked to these values.
Individual leaders commit to these values and role model them to their teams, taking courageous decisions where required and standing up for what is right.
FUNDAMENTAL REQUIREMENTS FOR GOOD PRACTICE
- HUMAN RIGHTS, ETHICS EMPHASISED
- SUPPORT DIVERSITY AND MULTI-GENERATIONAL
- WIDELY COMMUNICATED AND REINFORCED
- AWARE OF EXTERNAL PRESSURES
- ALIGNMENT OF REWARD AND VALUES
- MONITOR EXTERNAL REPUTATION
- SUPPORT INTERNAL FEEDBACK
- RECRUIT AND PROCURE FROM PEOPLE WITH ALIGNED VALUES
- UPDATE VALUES
- PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR LEADERS TO WALK THE TALK
- The values defined by the organisation uphold basic human rights as set out in the South African Bill of Rights and promote ethical and positive outcomes for the organisation, its stakeholders and society.
- The values defined by the organisation are appropriate to the multi-generational and diverse nature of stakeholder groupings.
- Appropriate communication methods are in place to ensure that employees know, understand and can shape their behaviour according to the values.
- The organisation helps employees to live the organisation’s values where they find it difficult to resolve contradictions and pressures from the world outside.
- The organisation has in place ways to monitor adherence to values by all levels of employees. Reward and recognition processes incorporate both positive and negative reinforcement for behaviour in line with the values. Employees who do not live the values are not tolerated.
- The organisation has in place ways to monitor its external reputation amongst various stakeholder groupings.
- There is a trusted process in place where employees can give fellow employees, including more senior employees, feedback on observed non-adherence to values. Informal and formal grievances may be submitted based on non-adherence to values.
- The organisation places importance on evaluating during the recruitment/procurement processes whether prospective employees and suppliers show that they are likely to align themselves with the organisation’s values.
- The organisation regularly evaluates the appropriateness of its values and adapts where necessary.
- Individual leaders are assisted with personal development so that they can authentically live the values and behave with integrity. Leaders throughout the organisation are known to “walk the talk” and are respected and trusted both internally and externally.
- What is an effective consultation process to ensure that our organisation’s values both support our journey towards our vision and reflect the diversity of personal values of our employees and other stakeholders?
- What positive and negative consequences are appropriate in our organisation to reinforce our values?
- Where are we now in relation to living our values?
- Are we transparent in linking our leadership decisions including reward decisions to our values?
- What leadership development processes will most effectively help our leaders to live our values?
- Can we recognise and deal with anyone in the organisation who is a toxic leader?
Source: © SABPP (2017) South African Leadership Standard. Johannesburg
In conclusion, the third element of the draft South African leadership standard is values. The key question leaders should ask is what values they would like to instil in the organisation to ensure that management and staff are united around the same values. Also, leading by example in living these values is a key responsibility of all leaders. Taking responsibility and ensuring accountability means that action must be taken against leaders and staff when the values are violated. Values should be visible and be lived on a daily basis to ensure that it becomes part of the culture of the organisation.
Penny Abbott is Research and Policy Advisor for SABPP, and Marius Meyer is CEO of SABPP. They are the convenors for the development and launch of the South African leadership standard on 26 October. Comments about the leadership standard can be send to firstname.lastname@example.org