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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.