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I have always defined the values of an organization as its beliefs in action. Any organizational culture, really, is ‘how we do things around here’. The key word is do. Values drive beliefs and beliefs drive behaviours. Those behaviours determine how well an organization performs. These behaviours are your culture.

Those values, therefore, if truly lived in an organization, can become a competitive edge that enables and drives all the right behaviours. As Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, says: ‘Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex, intelligent behaviour. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple, stupid behaviour.’

Values should encourage the right behaviours in an organization. They should ensure ethical behaviour. They should enable behaviours that help to deliver the business plan. But above all, they should enable people throughout the organization to make decisions on their own.

The problem is that depending on where you sit in the organization you are likely to opt for a different set of values. Managers will want behaviours that deliver high performance. Employees want behaviours that give them a great place to work. Marketeers want behaviours that win and keep customers. Boards want ethical behaviours. Leaders want behaviours that deliver the future vision. All should be catered for.

This idea caused me to research the different categories of values used by many companies. I believe that anyone looking to refresh their values or establish new values for their teams or their businesses should think about these categories when devising the right value set for them.

Values should help the company to achieve its goals and deliver its purpose. Yet most organizations have what I would describe as a hodgepodge of values that do not fully empower employees and are exactly the same as most other companies, including competitors. When considering your values, think about what you are trying to achieve, and which behaviours you want to influence or engineer.

I believe there are six places to look for your core values. Here are the areas to think about:

1.Licence-to-operate values.

There are some values that every organization should adhere to. Honesty, integrity, respect, innovation – what business could survive if it didn’t have these? That, I believe, is why so many of the FTSE 100 companies in the UK have exactly the same values. Everyone needs teamwork and collaboration. Everyone needs to be safe. I could go on and on. These are what I would describe as cleanliness values. Of course you must have them. Society expects these of you, but because of this, all companies have these and they do little to distinguish and differentiate.

2.Differentiating values.

These are values unique to your organization, which help to differentiate you in the marketplace. What is it about the way you do things that makes you different? How do you deliver unique offers to customers? What aspects of your brand are recognized and applauded by your consumers? These values need to be kept alive and leveraged constantly for you to maintain the promise of your brand in the marketplace.

3.Nice-place-to-work values.

Ask employees what matters to them, and you will find a whole set of values that ensure they work in a place that enables them to do their best, while also making them feel cared for and respected. You need these too.

4.High-performance values.

Talk to managers, and most of them describe a set of values around creating a high-performance culture. They want accountability, agility, ideas, commitment, innovation and more.

5.Current values.

As organizations grow and develop, a set of behaviours take root in that organization for all sorts of reasons. The founder might have had a personal set of values that became embedded as the organization grew. Successive leaders might have brought in their own beliefs and put in place operating processes driven by those beliefs. Whatever the reason, the organization will have a real set of values that manifest themselves as behaviours throughout the organization. These are the real and current values, not all of which are desirable and should be sustained. You have to truly understand what values live within the organization now and are brought to life in behaviours. Which are the behaviours that are undesirable and need to be stopped? Which behaviours happen only infrequently, but need to be made more commonplace? Which behaviours are critical to your success and must be maintained?

6.Future values.

Every team, every division, every company and every organization has a plan. Progress requires new and stretching goals, greater productivity, new products and services, new customers or new business from existing customers. To achieve these things will require new behaviours. If not, then what will enable the growth? And if they are new behaviours, what are the values that must underpin those behaviours? What beliefs need to be instilled in the business that will encourage the right behaviours throughout the organization? Too often, leadership teams fail to recognize that business plans require new behaviours, and those new behaviours may require new and different values that must be embedded.

Core values.

From all of these categories, the organization’s core values should then be selected. These should become the deeply held beliefs that guide all of the company’s actions, creating a moral compass that guides all decisions, at every level of the organization, always. Once decided on they should be sacrosanct, never compromised for convenience or short-term gain.

I have enjoyed interviewing more than 120 CEO’s for my three books, and I have found them to be unanimous in their view that articulating values and purpose was one of the most important jobs of leadership. They see it as a conversation without end, on board and management agendas, discussed on roadshows and workshops.

A shared sense of mission and values was inspiring, empowering and liberating and created enormous value in those companies that really brought them to life, they said. About nine out of ten of the leaders I have interviewed say they believe that values create value and were increasing in importance in a transparent, radically connected world.


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Some hard facts about soft skills

A lack of soft skills could be costing the UK billions a year in lost productivity. Yet soft skills are often undervalued, and sometimes ignored, as we seek to progress in our careers.

There are some hard facts you must absorb about these soft skills – which you ignore at your peril.

First, and most obvious, is that you won’t achieve much as a manager if you don’t sharpen these skills, and as a consequence you won’t progress. It is that simple. It doesn’t matter how senior you are. Enhancing your soft skills is the real route to leadership success.

Perhaps I am being over simplistic, but it seems to me that if you don’t achieve as a manager, your team won’t succeed, which means your company won’t succeed, which means your country won’t succeed.

You think I am exaggerating?

Just this week, hopes that we were getting on top of Britain’s chronic problem of low productivity were dealt a severe blow by official figures from the Office of National Statistics. Productivity statistics showed that this key measure of national prosperity has fallen for the first time since 2015.

While almost every advanced nation is struggling with stagnant productivity, the issue is particularly bad in Britain where there has been no growth in almost a decade. As a result, employees in this country must work about a day and a half longer than their German rivals to achieve the same economic output.

Productivity is key to living standards.

This really matters, because productivity is key to improving living standards. Gains in productivity mean we can produce more with the same resources and reduce costs. Those savings can then be shared in lower prices for consumers and higher wages for workers, without having a negative effect on the profitability of companies.

The UK’s productivity has fallen by 0.5% over the first quarter of 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics. This means that the country’s productivity has now fallen below the output per hour achieved in the final quarter of 2007, and a fall of 0.5% is also below the 1994-2007 labour productivity growth average, representing a worrying trend of stagnating productivity growth.

Ann Francke, CEO of the Chartered Management Institute, says this latest set of data will be a worry for those looking to solve the productivity puzzle that has dogged the UK since the start of the economic downturn.

“It’s alarming, but perhaps expected given the current political backdrop of Brexit and weak leadership, that the UK’s recent trend of productivity growth has ended,” she said. “Action needs to be taken before this becomes a downward trend. Investment in skills and management training is a crucial step to boosting productivity. Poor management is costing our economy £84bn each year, and Britain lags other countries when it comes to people skills. Indeed, four out of five British bosses are ‘accidental managers’ who’ve never been trained.”

Soft skills, says the CMI, are particularly crucial for managers, because they are the basis for leaders to effectively give directions to people with a persuasive flair, and influence their team to strategically pursue the organisation’s goals and objectives. Again and again, the answer comes down to two things: professional leadership that’s informed by integrity and vision; and genuine employee engagement so that everyone is inspired to contribute to improvement.

Need more hard data? How about this?

I’ve recently read an interesting report that says that soft skills, those very human interpersonal skills around communication and empathy, contribute £88 billion a year to the UK economy – a contribution that is expected to rise to £109 billion over the next five years.

97% of employers say soft skills are important to business success.

But the UK is definitely struggling with them, and by 2020 over half a million UK workers will be significantly held back by a lack of such skills. These were the findings of economic research commissioned by McDonald’s. It quoted 97% of employers saying they believed that soft skills were important to their current business success, while over half said skills like communication and teamwork were more important than academic results. Yet three-quarters of them believed there was a ‘gap’ of such skills in the UK workforce.

The research also revealed that UK employees say they struggle to sell their soft skills. One in five said they would not feel confident describing their soft skills to an employer and more than half (54%) have never included soft skills on their CV. It would suggest there is a lack of value placed on such skills in business and society as a whole.

Soft skills of leaders contribute enormously to engagement levels of employees, and therefore to productivity. Engaged employees with great soft skills give customers a far better experience, creating more loyal customers, and more profitable companies.

Soft skills are not just important when facing external customers and clients. They are equally important when it comes to interacting with colleagues. Soft skills relate to how you work with others. Employers value soft skills because they enable people to function and thrive in teams and in organisations as a whole. A productive and healthy work environment depends on soft skills.

However, it is not just an issue for customer service orientated companies, but also for professional service organisations. A survey of CFO’s found that 55% considered the biggest challenge in recruiting accountancy professionals was finding applicants with the necessary soft skills beyond the normal competences and qualifications expected.

Additionally, a UK Commission for Employment and Skills study confirmed the increasing importance and demand for soft skills in the Health and Social Care; Professional and Business Services; Retail & Wholesale; Creative Industries, Media and Entertainment; and Manufacturing sectors.

The CBI places particular emphasis on the soft (employability) skills of graduates and other young people. “Businesses want graduates who not only add value but who have the skills to help to transform their organisation in the face of continuous and rapid economic and technological change. All graduates need to be equipped with employability skills. Employability covers a broad range of non-academic or softer skills and abilities which are of value in the workplace. It includes the ability to work in a team; a willingness to demonstrate initiative and original thought; self-discipline in starting and completing tasks to deadline.”

Rather call soft skills, “professional” skills.

My take is that we give too little respect to these essential skills when we call them “soft” and imply that they’re optional. I prefer to think of them as professional skills, not soft skills.

Leadership skills. Interpersonal skills. The skills of charisma and listening, storytelling and visioning, persuading and aligning. These are crucial because what actually separates thriving organizations from struggling ones are the difficult-to-measure attitudes, processes and perceptions of the people who do the work.

If this is true, then you’d imagine that managers are constantly engaged in using their soft skills in uplifting and inspiring conversations with their employees?

Not so. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Lou Solomon recently reported that 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with their employees. The only surprising thing about this statistic is how low it is. I’ve been doing research into the subject for years now and I know that it is true that the majority of our managers (who are well-paid, well-trained and integral to our success) are uncomfortable doing this essential part of their job!

What about the next generation of managers coming out of the universities? In a recent survey, the Graduate Management Admission Council, who own the GMAT exam, reported that although MBA’s were strong in analytical aptitude, quantitative expertise, and information-gathering ability, they were sorely lacking in other critical areas that employers find equally attractive: strategic thinking, written and oral communication, leadership, and adaptability.

When I interviewed more than 80 CEOs for my first book, the language of leaders, I was seeking to find out what soft skills they had learned over their careers to help them be more inspiring. At the top of the list they said was learning how to use your passion and your personal values to inspire people to great performance. You had to act with integrity, be authentic and know how to truly connect with people at an emotional level. They said that good communication was passionate communication.

Being able to articulate and inspiring vision of the future, a compelling purpose, and a set of values that created a common culture were essential to being a great leader. But none of this could happen unless leaders were focused on their audience, both in terms of listening to them and in crafting relevant messages. They said that leaders needed to be visible, constantly on the road and in the corridors, engaging with people in an on-going conversation. they have to concentrate on learning the soft skills that would enable them to inspire their people. It was no longer enough to have “domain excellence” (experience and skills related to the marketplace you serve) – the most important job of a leader was to get tremendous things done through other people.

Take time to learn and improve your soft skills.

Do you want some good news? Like any skill, soft skills can be learned. Would you like even better news? Boosting your soft skills not only gives you a leg up on a new job or a promotion, but these skills also have obvious applications in all areas of your life, both professional and personal.

So, what can you do to improve the key soft skills that will make you a better leader?
• Take a Course: Look at areas such as effective written and verbal communication, teamwork, cultural understanding and psychology. Take a writing or public speaking course to boost your communication skills.
•Read more – buy books on the subject, search the Internet for everything you can find and work hard to put what you learn into practice.
•Seek a mentor: don’t be shy – speak to people that you admire and asked them to help you. Better still, employ a coach who can help you fast track your skills.
• Take this leadership skills test ( which is based on more than a hundred interviews with CEOs, as well as research involving 3000 managers and 6000 employees. Mark yourself out of 10 in each of these areas and take action to improve.


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“Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex, intelligent behaviour. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple, stupid behaviour.”

– Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of Visa International

Leaders who make purpose the beating heart of their organisations create more and more effective leaders, more engaged employees, more committed customers and more supportive stakeholders. By doing this, they create greater value, as well as thriving businesses, communities and environments.

As I have discovered while researching my new book “People with Purpose,” leaders everywhere are paying more attention to purpose, and increasingly understand how and why their purpose must be more widely beneficial than simply to make profit and provide a return to shareholders.

Of course, making a profit is crucial, but awareness is growing that today you have to create value for a wider range of stakeholders, and clearly communicate what that value is, if you want to continue to grow. Businesses that express their purpose in a way that shows how they improve people’s lives do much better than their peers, by 400 per cent. Organisations with a shared sense of purpose outperform those with no sense of purpose, on both hard, financial measures and soft, intangible measures.

One reason is because employees with purpose are more motivated and deliver better results. Leaders who make people’s work meaningful, and make their people feel worthy, inspire their people to be more passionate, engaged and flourishing employees, driven to make a difference.

I interviewed more than 30 CEO’s from a wide range of companies for my book and they tell their own stories about how they have used a purpose framework as a ‘North Star’ for long and short-term decision making. They talk about how purpose has encouraged their people to look for solutions that deliver durable value and returns. These are leaders who have used powerfully articulated purpose statements to bring companies back from the brink of collapse, or rapidly grow businesses into global giants, or simply enable their organisations to thrive over long periods of time. They describe how purpose has helped them to transform performance, motivate people through meaning, not fear, and create cultures of high energy and high performance, often from the very edge of disaster.

From what they have said, and from my study of countless purpose statements, I find that when you combine purpose, values and goals into an integrated framework, and communicate it all on a single page, you create a powerful tool that can help you deliver a more agile, empowered, energized and aligned organisation – the prerequisites of high performance.

Whether you are a CEO of a large organisation, a leader of a division of that business, or a leader of a small team, the benefits are the same and the principles are the same.

Research commissioned by the EY Beacon Institute among 500 global business leaders, and conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services (HBRAS), highlighted how global executives view the power of purpose to grow and transform their organisations. It also realised that purpose was a powerful but vastly underutilized asset.

The institute found that:
•Most executive believe purpose matters: 89 per cent of executives surveyed said a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction.
•84 per cent said it can affect an organisation’s ability to transform;
•80 per cent said it helps increase customer loyalty.
•However, only a minority of executives said their company currently runs in a purpose – driven way:
•Only 46 per cent said their company has a strong sense of purpose; and 44 per cent say their company was still trying to develop one.

So, the challenge is not having a strong purpose, it is in how to generate a sense of purpose that is truly shared by everyone in the organisation. Here’s what the best leaders were doing:

1.A long-term vision

A long-term vision gives employees a sense of security and this has a powerful impact on their engagement. If you want your people to have a greater sense of purpose, you must give them an audacious goal 10–20 years away – so audacious it gives them a sense of urgency today. If you want to transform the world, you better get started right away.

2. For a truly authentic purpose, start with the customer to truly engage with people inside and outside your organization

Defining common purpose is a key task of leadership. Purpose stays constant while strategies and practices constantly adapt in a changing world. Research shows that leaders who focus their purpose on making customers’ lives better are more likely to inspire truly customer-centric staff, who work hard to keep those customers coming back, thus outperforming competitors. Only by meeting the needs of customers can you fulfil the wider purpose of creating value for all stakeholders.

3. Culture is your competitive edge.

Organizations with a winning culture have given people a shared purpose, shared values and shared goals. Those organizations with rich, healthy cultures achieve income growth seven times higher than those with less well-defined cultures. As a result of their strong cultures, those companies are also better at attracting the talent that enables them to keep generating growth and value. Leaders must choose their values with care, and use them to drive conversations everywhere about not only their purpose and goals, but also the way in which they will be achieved.

4. Strategic Priorities

To achieve your three-year ambition requires you to focus on no more than five or six strategic priorities – fundamental things you have to get right in order to achieve your revenue, profit and relationship goals. These will be high-level tasks that will take you at least three years or longer to achieve, but which are the building blocks of success.

All subsequent operational; or tactical planning and resource allocation decisions will be based on these strategic priorities. Defining these will enable you to decide which projects or initiatives to continue and which to stop or delay. If this or that project does not help you to achieve one of your strategic priorities, then why are you doing it? Defining these goals is to bring your strategy to life, and enables employees to understand the various initiatives that are under way, what those goals will contribute to the vision, and why they are of value to the organisation.

Success, however, depends on ensuring that employees have an understanding of and a commitment to corporate goals, as well as an ability to set their own goals to align with those corporate goals. And they must be regularly reviewed. Understanding goals is one thing, but feeling that you can do something about them is even more important.

5. Use your ‘Purpose on a Page’ to have the powerful conversations that embed vision and values and align the organization

Without alignment, the best strategic plan will never be fully achieved. Alignment is the glue that binds an organization to its purpose, its values and its goals and enables it to get things done faster, with less effort, and with better results. However, you cannot create a fully aligned organization if you don’t spend the time aligning and enabling your managers, so that they can have the purposeful conversations that embed a sense of purpose in every employee. Unless you do this, your vision and values break down at the front line. Here, employees see only the gap between your aspirational language and their daily working lives, and they become cynical rather than motivated.

When articulated and communicated well, a purpose framework can help to direct, align and inspire the right actions on the part of large numbers of people. Without this, change programmes quickly dissolve into a list of confusing, competing and contradicting projects that absorb time and money and take you nowhere at all. When you combine purpose, values and goals into an integrated framework, and articulate it all on a single page, you create the tool that liberates high performance.


To download the True North Diagram go to the ‘Speaker page’ Downloadable Resources section.

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In business, culture is your competitive edge – and leaders who pay attention to culture achieve superior results. Here are some things to do to ensure a strong culture.

Organizations with rich, healthy cultures achieve income growth seven times higher than those with less well-defined cultures. As a result of their strong cultures, those companies are also better at attracting the talent that enables them to keep generating growth and value.

Leaders who pay attention to culture achieve superior results. This was the finding from research I did among 30 CEO’s for my new book, People with Purpose. I also commissioned special research from global online polling company YouGov, among 1900 managers and 2200 employees.

What became clear is that leaders who create strong cultures do so by articulating a set of values that they live by, and then making sure their managers and people live and breathe those values too. They make those values central to creating a shared sense of purpose with everyone in the team, as well as ensuring everyone is working to an aligned set of stretching goals.

With the health and growth of their businesses at stake, it’s no surprise that trying to achieve this can take every waking moment.

Follow these tips from CEOs who have focused on culture to enable success:

1) Think carefully about your values
Ensure that they reflect the DNA of your organization and that they encourage the behaviours that will enable you to achieve your goals. Too often, leaders describe values without sufficient explanation to have meaning, and that cannot truly drive culture.

Dame Louise Makin, CEO of specialist health-care company BTG, says: ‘I honestly believe that the absolute key to our success is the quality of our people and the way we conduct our business. Everything we do is guided by our values, which we long ago designed to underpin and foster a culture that would enable us to grow fast and be a meaningful company. Every step of the way we have made sure that we have had, at our core, integrity, teamwork, accountability, delivery, openness and continuous learning as our values.’

2) Put your leaders on the front line
To understand the culture and what changes are necessary, leaders must spend time on the front line of the business.

Vernon Everitt, MD of Customers, Communication and Technology for Transport for London, describes developing the culture as being all about trying to see life through the eyes of the customer. To do this, TfL has initiated a ‘front-line experience’, where all the senior leadership have to spend at least two weeks of the year out in the field, acting as a revenue inspector on the Tube, or on the bus service, or mopping the decks at one of the piers where the river boats turn up. ‘It’s only by doing this, by standing shoulder to shoulder with staff, that we can truly understand their experience and help them deliver a better service.’

3) Create a strong set of values to empower and energize people
Your culture – the way you express your purpose and values to employees – should enable everyone in the organization to make decisions in your absence, based on knowing what you would do.

Organizations that create more leaders are more agile. To create more leaders, you need to empower more people to make decisions without always going up and down the management chain. To achieve this, leaders need to provide a resonating purpose and clear principles.

In 2010, Debbie Hewitt MBE was appointed to help turn around the failing Moss Bros Group. At the heart of the company’s recovery has been the motivation and ethic of its people. ‘The previous mission statement didn’t engage or energize our people,’ says Debbie. ‘It wasn’t the reason people came to work every day. We needed to describe it with more emotional language – to make men feel amazing.’

4) Make sure middle managers live the values
Managers either enable or kill the values you want lived in the organization. Employees, no matter how keen, will not be able to live and breathe your values if your managers don’t. No matter how much the top team lives the values, if your middle managers are not doing so as well then culture breaks down.

Killian Hurley, chief executive at Mount Anvil, a specialist property developer in London, says: ‘One of our core values is to relentlessly strive to do the right thing. That means when we are hiring people, one of the qualities we are looking for is decency. We want people who, when faced with tough choices, will do the right thing. We absolutely know that the right thing to do is the best thing to do.’

But YouGov research shows that many employees do not believe their managers actually care about the purpose of their organization, nor do they believe that many of their managers live the values of the company. It is here that culture breaks down, and employees become cynical about the company’s values. Unless all managers also live the values in their actions and words, it is impossible to deliver the strong culture that can be such a competitive edge.

5) Beware of barriers that prevent people from living the values
Nothing kills engagement and motivation faster than inconsistency. Too often, leaders accidentally put policies in place that prevent employees from living the values. When you remove the barriers, and encourage the values, you can transform performance.

At Odeon and UCI Cinemas, poor performance was linked to employees’ general lack of any sense of shared vision, common culture, or faith in their leadership. ‘We actually put barriers in their way when we asked them to live our values,’ describes former chief executive Paul Donovan. ‘For example, we had a policy that wouldn’t allow our employees to see any new film for the first two weeks. When customers came in and asked about movies, staff just shrugged. They couldn’t say anything.’

Improvement has stemmed from the creation of a very clear vision and values: ‘We want our staff to be film fanatics, committed to delivering excellence through teamwork, in an informal and empowering environment, which will allow their passion to shine through.’

6) Your values bond customers to the brand
Your values bond customers to the brand, so make sure there is consistency between your internal culture and external expectations.

Steve Hood, chairman and chief executive of Trust Ford, the dedicated Ford dealer group, says: ‘If you can embed your values in everything your employees do, you can create a differentiator for your brand. Your culture is hugely important, both for attracting the right employees and winning and keeping customers. If you don’t have engaged employees living your values you’ll never retain your customers.’

David Statham, managing director of Southeastern Railways, fully agrees: ‘The values you choose and live are crucial to your success. Happier customers give us long-term security’. To achieve happy customers, David explains, ‘You can’t make rules for every single circumstance. You have to provide a framework that enables employees to make individual decisions every single day. You can only do that by instilling in them a sense of personal purpose. The people who travel on our networks are our colleagues, families, friends, neighbours. So it’s all about looking after people we know. Everyone has an opportunity to make a difference.’


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