By Jackie Forbes – Co MD Emerge Development Ltd
Welcome to my second blog for June where we are focusing on company values.
Recently an HR client shared with me a direct statement made by a high performing manager in his organisation.
‘What’s happened to the values? I feel undervalued and everything we stood for in the early years seems to have disappeared, and I feel totally demotivated’.
I was surprised as this individual is a star performer; whenever he had been on various workshops I had facilitated over the years I found him to be totally committed to the company. The very values this high performer had role-modeled for others had somehow got lost as the company faced difficult challenges. The result? He is demotivated, his performance is dropping and he’s looking for a new role. What a loss he will be.
After a decade of having an envious buzz/vibe this company’s culture is tarnished. It didn’t happen overnight, it’s been slow erosion. Perhaps partly due to its rapid growth and from my external perspective I think there were a couple of influential people hired along the way whose values didn’t quite support the original entrepreneurial culture. Whilst the company did define and publish its core values early on, they stopped continuously breathing life into them, so they got sidelined. Keeping values alive is as important as defining them in the first place.
A facilitator can be invaluable in helping to define core values or to help unleash a creative approach to revitalising existing values. This has been my most fulfilling area of work over the past three years. Below I share my experience of helping companies in the Finance, Manufacturing, Media and Defence sectors to developing their core values.
10 Tips to help define core values
1. Who is going to be involved? Often a company will have an executive away-day to define the values. This is a common mistake. They get bored because it is not a discussion that will produce instant results and sometimes they assume that once the words have been identified, it’s a job done. A better approach is to have a cross cut of employees. Ask who are seen as the heroes around here, liked and respected by most? What sorts of behaviours are they known for? Then find the best from different levels, the people who are successful in the roles and bring them together to find out what their guiding principles are. I have worked effectively with groups of 12, which include the MD and some representation from the board. When employees find out their peers were involved in defining the values, the cynics are less vocal
2. Ask what teams have the best performance, the best retention, and the best working climate. Find out what guiding principles they deploy
3. Allow incubation time. Generating ideas for values creates a mass of data. There is a collation and refinement stage. It’s an iterative approach that is best spread across a number of sittings. I have found you can achieve a rough cut of words that capture the essence of the unspoken guiding principles of an organisation but allowing the values champions time to think and live with the words can lead to subtle but important changes later. It can help to compile some thought provoking questions to ask the values champions before their first meeting. Questions like:
- What is really important to us as individuals about working here?
- When are our customers most satisfied and delighted with our company? What are we doing?
- Values are demonstrated by behaviours. What behaviours are being deployed that demonstrate an unwritten value?
4. Understand that however you define your values they must stay constant, your strategies will change, your values should no
5. Don’t be hijacked by statements like ‘we do this anyway’ – true, some people do but others don’t
6. Find the company jargon – I have found there are obvious generic words like integrity, quality etc that will naturally appear in most company’s values. I like to encourage the values champions to find the ‘street’ language of their organisation and use words that have currency. For example one value that sticks in my memory is ‘Individually Excellent Collectively Brilliant’. This was from Tetley and was one of five beautifully crafted values. Ideally values should be formed of more than one word, make them compelling action statements.
7. Dont have too many – roughly speaking 5-6 values will be manageable and memorable and should be able to focus across all areas of the business from customer to quality to people
8. Be sure there is full commitment – it’s a 3-5 year journey to embed the values so plan beyond the formation of the values to how they will be embedded
9. Plan for how the values are going to live beyond the paper they are written on, how will they be part of daily activity, how will they be actionable
10. Ensure the values map to the brand ensure your core values are in harmony with your brand values
Next week I will be sharing ideas I have learned and created that will help move the values from words to action.