Values are rarely given the attention they deserve and yet I firmly believe in the 21st century, they are not just important, but likely to become the key to a business true capability of success.

Few companies put time and effort into defining, communicating and carrying-through their business values, which, in essence, are the guiding principles by which they operate. One company’s values could be honesty, transparency and integrity, whereas another company may value excellent customer service and innovation.

Whatever the values, they’re all too often neglected in favour of bottom-line results, especially when times are challenging and KPIs are seen as the priority.

However, values and results must go hand-in-hand. The two need to be equally matched or the implications could be disastrous.

Values are the heartbeat of any business

Values are the heartbeat of an organisation and must instruct everything it does and every decision it makes. And by taking a values-led approach, what the business stands for is being constantly reaffirmed.

Without this understanding of what’s guiding the business, it will lose direction and could even lose its way completely, impacting its reputation, relationships and bottom line.

If an organisation defines its values well enough, the leaders should be able to use them as a solid benchmark by which to make strategic decisions and to also empower others to make decisions of their own.

The company’s values also need to be lived across the organisation, from recruitment through to R&D to promotion and through both product sourcing and delivery.

During the recruitment process, interview questions and tasks must revolve around the company’s values so that people are hired who are culturally compatible rather than those with a great CV, but at the expense of others.  This ‘rock the boat’ strategy at best is a high risk one, and can only work once.  Far better, and more sustainable to build the right cultural values from the very beginning.

Throughout our marketing, sales, and after sales service, the identity and image of the company and its brand must be in keeping with the company’s core values. And, when people from across the company are recognised for a job well done, it needs to be made clear to the person receiving the recognition and those witnessing it how their behaviour supports one or more of the company’s values.

If every business unit isn’t driving the organisation forward in line with its values, then there will be confusion, frustration and disengagement.

Most company leaders will delight in explaining their company values, and yet all too often, employee behaviour, sometimes even management and leadership behaviour  is at odds with these guiding principles.

There is a gap between rhetoric and reality, and it is in this gap that issues arise.

If values haven’t been properly thought-through and instead are seen as some form of tick box exercise or employer branding initiative, then they are pointless and ineffectual. Values must be genuine and deep-rooted if they’re to ‘stick’.

Unfortunately, there are many companies that ‘get it wrong’ and sink deeper and deeper into the gap. One of the most recent and notorious is the former construction giant, Carillion.

Carillion collapsed with liabilities of up to £7 billion after operating in a maverick fashion with a lack of transparency and integrity. It is also alleged that there was a culture of fear. The reality and the rhetoric were clearly significantly apart as the company’s values included openness, ‘working as one’ and sustainable profitable growth! Whilst this was the outward facing message of the company, internally was a significantly different story, in which they put profit way ahead of ethics, making its values of communication, respect and integrity eventually known for all the wrong reasons. The outcome speaks for itself!

Tips on getting values right

It can be challenging to operate a business that is constantly in tune with its values. Here are some tips on getting it right.

  1. Educate leaders on why living and breathing business values is so important. If it’s seen as a tick box exercise, it will fail.
  2. Collaborate on the business values to avoid it being a CEO or HR thing. A leadership team that comes up with ‘values’ without checking with the workforce about what’s important, will get little buy-in.
  3. Spend time clearly explaining and defining your values. This includes breaking-down your values into sets of behaviours so staff understand how they’re expected to behave. For instance, behaviours associated with ‘innovation’ could include generating new ideas, investigating and never ridiculing people’s ideas and permitting failure.
  4. Performance manage your people using values – Instead of purely focusing on KPIs, make sure managers recognise and reward staff who demonstrate the ‘right’ behaviours. This will prevent “brilliant jerks” and will help people to understand how important they are.
  5. Recognise and reward the right values when you see them – Don’t wait until the annual performance review as effective recognition needs to be frequent and timely.
  6. Ensure values are a natural part of your decision-making process and don’t be afraid to say “no” when something isn’t in line with your company’s values.

Organisations that disregard the importance of business values underestimate their impact. In an age when ‘how’ companies do business is just as important as bottom-line results, it’s time for business leaders to give ‘values and ethics’ the attention they deserve.

You can learn more by listening to my podcast episode: Why Values are Key to Success:

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It is on these principles I have formed and run my business.  And, on which we were recognised and awarded the title “Ethical Coaching Company” at the ‘Clear Business Thinking’ Awards 2017.

It takes time, consideration, collaboration and guts to review.  And if required, amend the very fabric of a business.  This is NOT an overnight choice, or something to present to the workforce on a Monday morning.  It has often taken some of the biggest companies a generation to review and amend their vision and values, and make the relevant and necessary adjustments to become more values based, ethical entities.  But, for those who do, the future isn’t just bright, it’s everlasting.

I’d love to hear your thoughts? – Drop a comment below on your take on this most important subject…

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