A common feature of many of the successful businesses we deal with is that they clearly articulate, communicate and consistently reinforce their values.
In the context of a business or organisation, values can be seen as statements of “the things that matter”. They articulate what the business stands for, what’s most important to the business. They also define the key expectations we have of each other within the business. They set a standard, guide our actions and lay the foundation for the culture of the business.
And it’s not just the “feel-good” factor we are after here. Indeed, the impact of clearly articulated, well-communicated, reinforced and integrated values to bottom-line business performance has been consistently proven through research conducted over the last couple of decades. Kotter & Heskett in Corporate Culture and Performance and Collins & Porras in Built to Last, for example, identified the strong connection between the alignment of employee and organisational values and financial performance.
While a fair number of businesses we work with have values of some description, a common response that we often get when we ask business owners and staff about them is along the lines of “Yeah, we have them…I think…but they don’t do anything”. If this sounds like the response we might get if we were to ask people about values in your own business, take comfort in the fact that your business is not alone. Indeed, also take some credit, because you are ahead of those many businesses that have not even got to the point of articulating values, let along doing anything with them.
In order to make their best possible contribution to your business, values need to be clear, understood and constantly reinforced. Indeed, I often tell business owners that if their staff roll their eyes when as you start talking about the values of the business, you should smile to yourself and regard it as a sign of success! It most likely means that you have communicated the values effectively, that your team already understand what is most important to the business, and the expectations you have of them as a result. If that’s the case, great, but keep going as a key to future success will be regular reinforcement of your expectations.
“If you think of vision and mission as an organisation’s head and heart,
the values it holds are its soul.”
Victor Buzzotta PhD
If more clearly articulating and better managing values sounds like an opportunity to improve your business, here are a few tips to get you started:
- Get people involved–Best results are achieved when those responsible for living the values of the business are personally aligned and feel some ownership of them. Staff are the most critical group to engage with in terms of values, but it could also be beneficial to canvass the views of other stakeholders including key customers, clients, suppliers and partners.
- Think internally and externally– Values should reflect expectations about internal and external interactions. What’s important in terms of us working together within the business? What’s important to us, and what do we want to be known for, in terms of our interactions with our customers, clients, suppliers and partners?
- Poke around– Look to other businesses or organisations that you admire and which have a great culture. What are their values, how are they communicating them? Take a peak at Virgin Australia and Google Australia websites for some inspiration.
- Make it fun and feel free to dream!– Facilitate a brainstorming session with staff, or perhaps do it as part of a planning day. Ask what drives them at a personal level, what do they think the business currently stands for, what type of business do they want to be a part of? Remember, it’s OK for values to be somewhat aspirational, though you will be best-served to ensure they are in fact realistic.
- Explore thoroughly, but leave the word-smithing till later– When going through the initial consultation phase, focus on getting the values themselves right and developing a description of each value – it needs to be clear just what expectations the values translate to – exactly what does it mean to live each value? Don’t get bogged down on developing final statements however – this can come later, as part of a second phase of consultation.
- Reality check– It can all be very exciting when to have everyone involved, talking about what’s important, what they want to be a part of and creating a vision for the future of the business. The temptation is to adopt them, print them and communicate your shiny new values to all and sundry. The wisest move however might be to take a “breather”. Spend a little time reflecting on the draft values – can your business realistically aspire to them, do they get you excited, and are you ultimately prepared to let your actions be guided by them? Until you can answer each question with an excited, confident “yes”, you might need to keep pondering….
- Communicate, communicate, communicate, then repeat– Having explored, consulted and wordsmithed, the next phase is to communicate your values. Be sure to communicate them both internally and externally. Put them on the wall in the office, in reception, on your website, on your promotional material. Don’t be shy about them – take pride and publicly commit to your values. The more you communicate them, the more they will infiltrate and become part of the fabric of your business.
- Integrate and reinforce them– This is a critical step. Values need to be integrated into the systems and processes of your business. In particular, they need to be reflected in and reinforced by HR systems, strategies and processes including recruitment and selection, performance planning and review and recognition and reward.
- Live them and be accountable for them– There needs to be a strong expectation that people at all levels of the business will work in a manner which is consistent with the values of the business. Management in particular needs to be prepared to ensure its actions are guided by the values of the business, even where the actions taken might negatively impact short-term objectives. By way of example, let’s assume a couple of the values of the business relate to teamwork – working together, supporting one another, respect for others etc… Let’s also assume that the top revenue-earner in the business, while highly-regarded by clients, internally exhibits a number of concerning behaviours – bullying, intimidation, claiming credit for the work of others, withholding important information from other team members etc…. In order to “live” and reinforce the values, management would need to take strong action against the individual concerned, even if it negatively impacts short-term revenues. These aren’t easy decisions to take: not taking them though, causes misalignment between espoused values and actual behaviours, which over time results in the values becoming increasingly meaningless.
So, has your business got what it takes in terms of values? Do you have them, are they well-communicated, are they integrated into your systems and processes, are you consistently reinforcing and “living” them? If so, congratulations, you have significantly improved your chances of success! If not, we hope this article has provided some healthy food for thought and, if you decide to accept the challenge, some tips to help you on your way. Do call us if you require further support.