UCT GSB's Tim London on how to be true to your organisational values

Values should live in your organisation and not only on the website was his message at HR Indaba Africa.

Dr Tim London, senior lecturer at the UCT Graduate School of Business, says that one of the biggest mistake organisations make is not being true to their values. Speaking at the inaugural HR Indaba, which was held at the Sandton Convention Centre on 3 and 4 October 2018, he said companies that don't understand their own values won't be able to know which kinds of people are best suited to their culture and the impact of that is detrimental. 


People are most effective when they are in an organisation that matches their own values, he explained. Otherwise, people have to do a lot of 'face work', which means they have to pretend to be someone else to succeed in a particular space. This is something that is visible amongst women who, because boards are male-dominated, feel like they have to feel like they have to act like a man in order to reach that level. Similarly, people of colour that are working in predominantly white environments might feel like they need to act white in order to thrive in that space. Tim said that, while many people can achieve success this way, it is mentally taxing to think like that and psychology unhealthy to go through one's professional career feeling like who they really are is not good enough. 

"A lot of research around this is done with young children who have to be different people at school and at home. Imagine you had to go through the world pretending to have a Norwegian accent. You wouldn't talk as much because you would be afraid of messing it up and being caught out. Imagine going through your whole career like that," said Tim, adding that if someone has one set of core values that are important to them at home, at a different set they are prioritised at work, they are in the wrong job.

Tim asked three questions: how many in the room knew the values of their organisations, how many thought they knew what those values actually meant, and how many thought it meant the same thing to them that it did to everyone else in the organisation. The number of people who raised their hands went from almost everyone on the room for the first question to one person raising their hand for the last. This was the challenge. Everyone knows the values because they're on the website, but that's where the story ended.

While it makes sense to check that an organisation's purpose and values are what they say, most companies don't actually do it because they are afraid of what they will find out exactly how misaligned everything is.

"Because the result is often that you will find a large portion of people in the organisation who do not match those values. And you are all in HR so you wouldn't want to have to deal with that kind of a headache. But that's the reality of what needs to be done. Every organisation has roughly five to 10 percent turnover per year, so you have to be selective about who leaves and who stays," said Tim, adding that not interrogating the organisation's values can result in people the departure of people whose values match those of organisation while those whose values aren't aligned remain in the organisation.