Is there any value in organisational values?Insights

Is there any value in organisational values?

9 min read, by Luke Fisher

I recently joined the Engage for Success Task and Action group focused on Organisational Integrity and Values. The group aim to inform leadership teams of the importance of great culture and equip them with the tools to create an environment that enables their people to succeed, deliver, and most importantly, connect with the strategic aims of the business.

Through my work at Mo I am exposed to the inner workings of behavioural change programmes and their reception by employees.

It did get me thinking though…

What’s the value in having company values?

Yes, it feels good when you walk into the boardroom and there’s a glossy poster with them on. Yes, it gives you something to put on your careers page in an attempt to differentiate for prospective employees! But why should the values and ultimately the culture of the organisation grab (and keep) the attention of the board?

"a framework that allows employees to make the right decisions

As a CEO, a Speaker on Culture and Organisational Transformation and even thinking back, as an employee, what do values really mean to me? I like to think of them as the fundamental principles of the organisation — a framework that allows employees to make the right decisions, no matter how uniquely challenging their situation may be. Using the right values ensures these decisions are the kind that customers, colleagues and suppliers would all say, represent the organisation they have an emotional attachment to.

I like to think of them as the fundamental principles of the organisation

Like any other community, values and culture are inherent in teams, departments and consequently across the whole organisation. The opportunity we have, by actively managing this, is to define the type of organisation we want to be and then actively encourage these these behaviours through recognition and incentivisation.

If this is done well, this creates consistency in decision making and can allow for decision making authority to be delegated and trusted. Have you ever thought of culture as a delegation framework, that achieves the same goal as a command and control structure, but is way more empowering?

Does a consultant go from one organisation to another and pick from the same bank of values?

Are the rumours true, are all organisational values the same? To begin with, I wanted to understand whether the values of businesses were actually any different, or whether they had become abstract in the attempt to become all encompassing. I researched the most successful companies I could think of, the FTSE 100, the Top Track 100 and the organisations that had made the Top 100 Companies to Work for list over the last 5 years. Here’s what I found…

Before you read on, can you guess values that appeared most frequently? Don’t cheat, they’re up next! These 5 values were mentioned a whopping 233 times in a list of just 312 companies and remain the top values across each of the lists evaluated individually.

1. Integrity

2. Respect

3. Innovation

4. Excellence

5. Teamwork

How similar are these to your organisations values?

The organisations in these lists share the same values but operate in wildly different sectors, have very different operations and varying employee profiles – does this mean they got lazy and picked them from the same bank of values as everyone else?

For Example: Rio Tinto Group (Mining), Blackstone (Alternative Investment Managers) and Schroders (Investment Management) share ⅗ of their core values as an organisation; Integrity, excellence and teamwork. Again I couldn’t help wondering; do they share the same consultant or are these values truly important to their people and their leadership team?

It only takes a glance at the career pages of each company to realise how quickly they develop their own culture driven by these values.

The operationalization of these values, the choices that their people make and the behaviours they drive are very different —they were far from generic I already began to understand which organisation I would like to work for the most!

This, for me, showed how the manifestation of these values, through the behaviours of their leaders and their employees could create unique cultures.

"This was a ‘ah-ha!’ moment for me, I suddenly understood why the best change management professionals always talk about behavioural change, rather than cultural change!

Now that I’d looked at how companies describe themselves on their websites, it was time to research how their employees perceived them. Through the work we do here at Mo we’re privileged to speak to 1,000’s of employees about what they value at work and what these key themes or values mean to them.

What we have learnt is that the most effective way to introduce a true understanding of your values to your employees is to pick up on aligned behaviours employees already exhibit and actively encourage any that are missing.

I’ve seen this repeated encouragement facilitated using the management layer, through digital tools or by integrating with an existing reward and recognition initiative.

What we learn is the way their leadership and colleagues behave is much more tangible — and creates a lasting and meaningful impact on the culture of these organisations.

What does this mean for organisations?

We all know that the culture of any organisation is created by the people that work there. The people that work there have their own values, that motivate them to behave in certain ways, that influence how they interact with their organisational culture – their work community. So, is it actually this link, between an employee’s values and those of the organisation that answers our question “is there any value in organisational values?”

Organisations can let their culture evolve by itself, but most want to be able to drive their culture towards delivering positive outcomes for all stakeholders – so they set about trying to define that culture and the easiest way to do that is to publish a set of organisational values. Now here’s the rub. What if those values don’t connect with the people that work there. What if employees feel disconnected from the values. I believe they feel disconnected from their employer, disconnected from the brand they represent and ultimately unable to give their best.

Think why people love the Harrods brand or we have an iPhone in our pocket, they create exceptional connections with their consumers, driven by a strong set of brand values that people can connect to and want to be a part of the community. Very often we try to adjust the perception of our brand to influence consumer behaviour - I like to think of this as creating values from the outside-in.

Organisations have the opportunity to create this emotional connection with employees on the inside too. With a strong set of internal values, knowledge of which behaviours are desirable and alignment to the ambition for the brand externally you can really shift perception of your brand in a scalable way - especially for people led businesses who regularly interact with your customers. This is what I call from theinside-out!

Here’s the thing, the more people live the values of the organisation, the more likely they are to connect to the organisation and it’s purpose, leading to a far more emotional commitment (opposed to rational). The stronger this connection (some may call it engagement) the more successful your people and consequently your organisation will be.

How organisations can bring their values to life?

But, what if, employees help define and drive their culture. What if employees share those things they value at work and help guide their organisation, their working community, towards a place where values are lived, not just in words but in actions. Actions that can be celebrated and adapted as they go. What if leaders start to “feel” the values through the words of their people, emotionally connect with the community they lead and provide their people with a place of work that delivers on the value promise, because it shares the values they do? A community where everyone just “feels” like it’s the right place to be, connected through the values they all share.

In essence,

Ask your people what their best day at work “feels” like

1. Ask your people what their best day at work “feels” like.

2. Share this ambition with employees, but ask them to get actively involved, personally involved, in shaping the culture.

3. Recognise successes and failures – have the confidence to highlight both – when things are going brilliantly and where things need to change.

4. Put your money where your mouth is (formally, act with integrity) - invest in process and technology to enable and empower your employees to live your values.

5. Ultimately recognise everyone who contributes to driving the culture. It’s the celebration of this culture that will tell you how you’re doing and build the stories that will become the fabric of your organisational community.

6. Ultimately recognise everyone who contributes to driving the culture. It’s the celebration of this culture that will tell you how you’re doing and build the stories that will become the fabric of your organisational community.

The thought I am left with, is an age old saying, that actions speak louder than words. So if people in your business are acting in the way that you want them to, please celebrate it!

A little plug… and a must watch video…

How can we help embed your values and behaviours and help transform your culture?

We’ve recently been recognised by the CIPD for our work on analysing company values and behaviours. We can embed your cultural framework into our tools and give you cool charts like this that act as a great catalyst for the conversation: are we truly living our values and behaviours or not?

You can check out the CIPD case study!