HR Training Consultant/Owner Mindful Managing
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Values: the foundation of company culture

20th Aug 2019
team all in a circle hugging
iStock/Cecilie_Arcurs

In the first of a two-part feature, Stephanie Evans explores how a strong company culture can make all the difference when it comes to getting the best from your team, but developing this is about more than just coming up with a catchy slogan. It’s about living those values every day. 

Company culture is a passion of mine. I believe that the atmosphere in which you work is integral to your health, wellbeing and productivity. Get this right and any business will benefit from happy, healthy, engaged staff who are productive, passionate and remain with the organisation longer.

How do you establish a company culture?

As the title of this article says, the foundation of this is values - and I don’t mean any old values that you think up on the fly, or ‘borrow’ from another company that you have worked for, or one you think is success.

Every company’s values should be unique to them. They represent ‘how we do things around here’, a phrase that I use regularly with clients when discussing or advising on getting the best from their people.

We’re not talking about how Coca-Cola does things, or Apple, or Admiral or Tesco or any other well know business that you can think of. It should be how your business does things.

Talking about values is not new, and many companies do have them. You may have noticed that the words that represent those values are similar for those different companies. Words/phrases like ‘honesty’, ‘teamwork’, ‘customer first’, and’ leadership’ are all commonly used.

What makes them different?

This is the key question. What makes them different is that they are developed in your business by the people in your business to represent how you want to do things – the behaviours you want to see demonstrated everyday in your interactions with each other, your customers/clients, suppliers and other third parties.

How do you develop your own company values?

There are several steps, and I would highly recommend involving an external facilitator who develops values to guide you through the process to minimise any bias or losing your way along the journey.

They can also ask those challenging questions when they need to be asked without relationships within the team being affected. The steps are outlined below.  

Gather a group of stakeholders to work together to develop your values 

This group should include staff at all levels and clearly must have the most senior staff behind it for it to work.

Brainstorm the sort of behaviours you want to see in your business

Everyone contributes what they want to see, hear and feel, and what they don’t want to see. This is then collated - usually several flipchart pages are covered by the end of this stage!

Identify potential words to represent the values

This will give you a feel for which words would best represent the behaviours you want to see in your business, so take the suggestions and then agree final set.

Decide if you want those words to be an acronym or not

Some businesses make an acronym form their values – using the company name or a key phrase from their vision or mission.

For example, Orange’s values had the acronym of ‘the first’ when I worked for them, and I can still remember what they stand for today over 18 years later.

Define each value

This is where you make your values unique through the definition. The word you use to represent the value may be used by another business but the definition you give it makes it unique to your business.

There is nothing better than walking through a company to see and hear the values being demonstrated.

Take the word ‘teamwork’, for example, a familiar term for business and something all business want to have as a way of working. How that ‘teamwork’ is played out – what it looks like, sounds like, feels like, will be unique to each business.

It is through the definition of the chosen value words that you create the unique culture

Identify the positive and negative examples of behaviour for each value

Having the word and definition to represent your values is great but it doesn’t stop there.

For your staff to really understand what is expected of them they need to have examples of what each value looks like, sounds like and feels like when it is being done positively and also what it looks like when it is being demonstrated negatively

Why include the negative examples? Some of us we need to understand what not to do in order to be able to do what is wanted of us – it’s all about our preferred ways of thinking.

Get feedback from the rest of the staff

This is important for buy – in. Share what you have and get feedback from as many staff as you can so that everyone feels a part of their development.

Launch

Here you can have some fun with screensavers, giveaways and posters for the walls. The key to effective introduction is to immerse the whole company in the values.

Make sure that you explain why they are being introduced and the expectations that you have on the staff around their demonstration.

Embed

This is the final step – a poster on the wall and a nice coaster or mug with the values on, won’t achieve this final stage.

To embed your company values so they become the culture of the business you need to use them in all aspects of the business:

  • Recruitment – interview against them.
  • Induction – make the expectations clear and measure new starters against them during probation.
  • Appraisal – set values-based objectives and measure them.
  • Performance management – use the values when setting out your expectations of performance for employees – they can make those difficult conversations fair easier to have.
  • Polices and procedures – do these align with your new values? If not, then they need a review.

Having worked for many organisations form blue chip companies to SMEs, I’ve noticed that the values - and a lack of them - has been influential when it comes to how their staff feel and perform.

I am privileged to have worked with several organisations to develop their values and support the embedding of them across the business.

There is nothing better than walking through a company to see and hear the values being demonstrated.

It’s also rewarding to review reports on the improved performance that the business sees as a result, including:

  • Reduced absenteeism.
  • Increased productivity and wellbeing.
  • Increased engagement.
  • Increased staff retention.
  • Improved staff survey results, and more.

Company values are about more than just a poster on the wall and can make a significant difference to your business when developed properly.

Once they are embedded they will drive your culture, enabling you to reap the rewards of a strong high performing team.

Interested in this topic? Find out how to use company values to get the best from your people in the second part of Stephanie's two-part series.

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