26 Jul 2012
Values and beliefs underpin all human behaviour, within the organisational context as much anywhere else. Whether you have an explicitly stated set of organisational values or not, your culture will be operating through them. They will have been created over time by the people who founded the business and have come and gone over the years. Add to this acquisition of new businesses; processes, practices and procedures; changes in leadership and change in the world around us and these undefined values grow, change, develop and entrench. They are found in, and reinforced by, behaviour, traditions, rituals and the stories you tell yourselves about ‘how we do things around here’.
The Business Connection Model (pictured below – copyright Branded Customer Service) illustrates the importance of shared values and attitudes in the critical mix that creates engaged, high performance cultures by providing clear guidance to everyone in the business by answering the questions that matter most:
- What are we aiming for?
- How are we going do it?
- What’s my role in making it all happen?
- How are we doing? and
- Are we serious or is this just another strategy document that ends up in a drawer, values that are just a poster on a wall, ‘rah rah’ event that leads to nothing, etc.
We believe it is important for values to be authentic and relevant. When working with an organisation it is important to take the time to explore what key people within the business believe, rather than something created on the basis of what ‘should’ be as a reflection of the values of a single individual or those of an admired third party business. The process is more one of discovery than of original creation, expressing those values in the language of the organisation, not a foreign corporate voice.
Discovery doesn’t require the input of the entire organisation. We recommend involvement of the Executive, people managers and key ‘culture makers’ and influencers at a range of levels. Values become a road map for decision making and are a key element in the necessary work of aligning brand, strategy and human behaviour for sustainable business success. As such, it is imperative within the Discovery phase to involve those who are guiding the business and its people, along with those who exemplify the sort of values and behaviours that your organisation seeks from its people.
Some organisations develop values as a ‘tick the box’ exercise – creating them; publishing and promoting; at best dropping into recruitment advertisement, internal communications and their website; a few posters, mouse pads and an award for which people periodically get nominated when managers are told to. Our belief is that shared values are an important tool in the deliberate shaping of organisational culture and improved business performance. In order to make the most of them everyone in the business must be involved in a process to align their personal experience and beliefs to the stated values. This isn’t about a ‘big bang’ event or ‘push’ communications initiative but rather an on-going and engaging conversation based approach that allows everyone to connect, explore and reinforce the values in terms of their own personal experience to align their behaviour patterns and transform performance.
For a values initiative to really work it is important that those that lead the business are aligned at the outset around the purpose for the work. They need to reach agreement on what values mean for them and the part those values will play in making strategy a reality through culture. In addition, leaders must be clear on their personal role in both the success of the project and on-going demonstration of the values on a daily basis – walking the talk. As such, one of the first things we do when working with a business on this kind of project is take the time to work with the Executive to ensure they are on-board, aligning understanding and expectation. This provides us with the opportunity to understand them and their values, along with uncovering previous experience of working with values – good and bad – as these can work for and against the project. It’s not uncommon to find people at all levels of an organisation who can be cynical about values based on experiences in other businesses where the values where just posters on a wall and not truly integrated into ‘how we do things around there’; where behaviour was to the contrary espoused values, especially if leaders didn’t demonstrate the values or make the ‘hard calls’ when they weren’t being lived. It is particularly important to invest the time up front with leaders to uncover any experience such as this and ensure they are aware of their responsibility in leading this work and the on-going mission of ‘living the values’.
And the change doesn’t wait to start until you decide what your articulated values are. The Discovery process in and of itself is a great opportunity to focus people on what’s great about the business and your unique culture. Having people from across the business come together to share stories about ‘us at our best’ and to identify the beliefs and behaviours that underpin those experiences creates a positive swing that extends well beyond the group involved. Undertaking a values project led by leadership and communicated widely demonstrates an investment in your people and in creating an even better place to work.