Pick any organisation you like, and the chances are that, alongside their mission statement and corporate vision, they will have a set of core company values. Each business will try and spin these in a slightly different way in order to give the illusion of originality, but the fact is that they will all ultimately be saying the same thing: ‘Follow these guiding principles and we will achieve our organisational goals.’
Sounds pretty compelling, no? A set of guidelines which, if followed, lead to the assured achievement of objectives? It’s no wonder corporate values have become a key topic of discussion around the boardroom table.
That’s where the discussion stops
The problem is… that’s often where the discussion stops. A group of executives meet and collectively agree a set of values – thesaurus no doubt closely to hand – which they believe encapsulate the behaviours their employees must embody in order to best deliver results. They present these to their organisation and announce them to their clients on their website. And then…?
The challenge a number of organisations have had is that they stop halfway through the process. They come up with their values, they communicate them to the business and maybe even to their client base… but that’s where it ends. The discussions which took place around the boardroom table which led to these values being agreed are never shared with the wider employee body. As a result, all your employees are left with is a series of words or phrases which at best may vaguely resonate with them, at worst won’t make any sense whatsoever and will consequently be completely ignored.
At Benefex, we launched our own set of corporate values – our Company ‘Cornerstones’ (so called because there are four of them, underpinning our business) – several years ago. I think we made a decent stab at communicating them to people and explaining the thought process behind them… but once we’d completed that series of activities, things started to tail off. This meant that not only were they not being properly communicated to any new starters who joined the business, we weren’t ensuring they were fresh and relevant in the eyes of existing Benefexers. If values don’t feel relevant, and if people don’t understand them, then they’re not going to make an effort to live them. And it’s only when your corporate values are lived each day, that they really start to deliver an impact.
Making it clear
In 2015, we relaunched our Cornerstones. Not only did the wall in the kitchen where we display them get a fresh lick of paint, but we also worked really hard at communicating their meaning to employees. For example, the supporting commentary for our Cornerstone ‘We All Drive Change’ talks about the importance of not waiting for someone else to instigate change, but instead taking personal responsibility for making improvements. Suddenly, that particular value starts to be brought to life.
Bring them to life
If your corporate values are truly important to your business, then as business leaders and cultural guardians we have to ensure they are genuinely embedded in everything that we do, and lead by example. Our Cornerstones are a critical part of our recruitment and induction process; they form measures which we review performance against during a new joiner’s probationary period; and we are ultimately unafraid to identify individuals who persistently refuse to work in alignment with our published values and take action to address this. For your organisational values to truly make a difference, you have to do more than merely pay lip service to them.
I would be the first to stand up and say that we are not there yet. We have spent a lot of time working to really embed our values, but we know from employee feedback which has been shared via our internal Culture Club that employees are still looking for more guidance on how they can really apply those values in their day to day roles. We’re working on that now and will be looking to launch something to the whole organisation very soon.
The value of values
Still unsure of the value of values? If I’m ever asked this question, I refer back to one of my favourite quotes, which comes from Roy E. Disney:
“It’s not hard to make decisions once you know what your values are.”
Clear, properly communicated values enable your collective workforce to make decisions; decisions which are founded upon the principle of achieving your business goals. Effectively, by clearly communicating your corporate values, you are directly accelerating the success of your organisation. With that as the backdrop, shouldn’t ensuring you bring those values to life be one of the greatest priorities you have?