Have you ever worked in a company where the corporate values pinned on the wall didn’t match the day-to-day reality?
Business leaders know that this can happen despite the very best intentions. So what causes corporate values to slip? Why do leaders struggle to close the gap between what’s said and what’s done?
Often, it’s a failure to realise that values only truly have meaning when they are expressed as behaviours. In fact, at The House we believe that values ARE behaviours – nothing more, nothing less. By thinking about values in terms of behaviours, leaders can build robust and resilient cultures in which values are lived day in, day out.
Behaviour goes deeper
Take a value like “transparency”. A company that says it values transparency but doesn’t behave transparently clearly has a problem – that’s obvious. But how many companies take the extra step of articulating what “transparent behaviour” actually looks like across their business?
Do this, and you will see that the answer will be different for each department, each process and at each stage of the customer journey. No matter how good the intention, a purely abstract value set won’t get into the DNA of the organisation and create positive change.
Think in terms of value-behaviours, and you can translate intention into attention. You can focus on each part of the business in turn and create a clear and shared set of expectations of how colleagues will treat each other and how they will treat customers.
Opening up space
Focusing on behaviours doesn’t mean micro-managing your team. On the contrary, asking questions about how to translate abstract values into concrete behaviours can open up a new space for employees to give input and shape how the organisation works.
We’ve seen in our work that encouraging conversations around the question of “what does this shared value mean for me and my role” increases the likelihood that colleagues will buy into your company’s values and vision.
The end result is that employees build a common language of ‘words and deeds’ that infuse values into day-to-day activity and clearly express what the business stands for.
Do you need to rethink your corporate values?
Working with clients, we’ve found that when leaders start to think in terms of behaviours, they often look at their company’s stated values with fresh eyes.
At times, those values are found wanting – despite best intentions, they are little more than words on a wall because they didn’t come from the core of the organisation’s purpose and brand promise, and thus don’t have any purchase on the day-to-day operations of the business.
For example, we worked with the senior leadership team of a B2B technology firm that had a long list of generic corporate values. When we challenged them to think in terms of behaviours, they quickly realised that the existing set of values was not up to the task of generating the positive change they wanted to see in the company.
We worked with them to refocus the value set around the powerful ideas that would support their purpose and differentiate them from the competition. We then mapped them against every part of the customer journey.
The end result was a set of four core values. These were built with real day-to-day behaviours in mind, articulated in paragraph-length detail and then collected in a pack that sits on every employee’s desk.
Three questions to ask about your values…
As an exercise, look at the stated values of your organisation and ask yourself these three questions:
Do your values help you solve problems? Are you using your values as tools? Can you take a situation and use your values as a practical guide to decision-making?
Can you use your values to measure employee or team performance? Do you have a framework to measure performance AND behaviour? If you have team members who hit targets but create problems for others, are you able to show clearly how their behaviour contravenes your corporate values? Could you sensibly use the company’s values in a review or appraisal situation?
Do your values differentiate you from the competition? ‘Honesty”, “integrity” and “customer focus” are all essential ingredients of any business – which is why they are unlikely to differentiate you from the competition.
Compare that to the values of the newly rebranded Ordnance Survey, the UK’s leading supplier of geographic information: “adventurous, incisive, restless and true”. It’s a fantastic value set that reflects customer need and clearly points Ordnance Survey towards constant improvement and development of its products and services.
Similarly, Google’s value statement that “it’s best to do one thing really, really well” clearly differentiates the company’s approach and culture against rivals who might seek expand service reach at the expense of service quality.
Can you afford to leave your values pinned to the wall?
Developing your corporate values is really about deciding which behaviours you want to see manifest across your organisation. By reframing corporate values, in terms of desired behaviours, leaders can build strong, resilient cultures that can withstand changes and support long-term business development.
Graham Massey is the Business Head of The House, a consultancy that believes valuable businesses are born out of purpose.