Often times, HR can seem like it is forced to serve two masters. In many organizations it is the enforcement arm of the C-Suite and everyone knows it, no matter how vehemently it is denied. There are certain performance metrics that are expected to be met and these things are interwoven throughout the review process. Sure there must be performance metrics and someone has to be responsible for maintaining this accountability structure.

HR also has to serve the need of helping foster culture and all that soft-skills stuff, right? While many of us won’t agree that this responsibility rests solely with HR, it IS expected to facilitate the direction of these things. HR focuses on making sure the values of the organization are permeated throughout the organization through various means. These values are meant to be the heartbeat of the organization.

The problem is these two very important things are done exclusive of one another (for seemingly very different reasons and in very different contexts), leaving HR left to try and help implement/manage both. Most companies reflect more on their balance sheet and projections when setting performance metrics. Rarely, if ever, do they reflect on their values when they set these performance metrics. Occasionally a priority issue arises where meeting the performance metric and aligning actions with a company value are in diametric opposition to one another. HR ends up stuck in the middle trying to sell the myth that values are important to senior leadership while supporting quality performance.

While it’s not a popular thing to say publicly, the unfortunate thing is many leaders would prefer people err on the side of performance than the side of values. When values take second priority, their importance is called into question and organizations lose the right to hold people accountable to them.

Here are some tips to avoid being caught unaware when forced to choose between values and performance.

  • Minimize the possibility – The best way to avoid the challenge of choosing between performance and values is to consider your values when designing performance metrics. Get the end user involved in the development of the metric and listen to their input. Chances are they may have some great ideas that get the job done without sacrificing values alignment.
  • Clarify priorities – Having a conflict between performance and values is inevitable in every organization. Determining your response before hand takes the pressure off and allows for a standard to develop. If I could make a suggestion, give your values top priority. If you are a values-based organization, the performance of your employees will go up naturally. You are viewed as credible and trustworthy. The natural result of that is increased application of discretionary effort which can’t be designed into performance metrics.
  • Reward accordingly – When someone chooses values over performance, make it a story. Let these stories become a part of your recognition program. Beyond rewarding internally, this can easily become a positive part of your PR message. People like to do business with organizations who are clear about their values and actually live it out practically at all levels in the organization.
Let’s make sure we’re allowing performance to be develop through our values instead of having HR pimp out our flavor of the month for the sake of solely meeting the next important “thing”. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome and appreciated!