Most leaders see the benefits of having formal corporate values. With the right investment of time and energy, corporate values lead to greater engagement, improved performance and overall success. When they’re not done properly, you end up with hollow statements that no one takes seriously.
Meaningful core values are part of a company’s DNA. They articulate what an organization stands for, highlighting the expected behavioural norms and skills. They form the core of its culture.
Your company’s core values influence the employees you hire and how your company spends its time and money. When tough decisions are needed, it’s your values that drive them.
Core values: more than “the CEO said so”
Too many times, a company’s values are determined by direction from above. “The CEO says this is what we stand for. Send it out to employees and put it up on the wall.”
Taking that approach can cause more damage than not having any values statements at all. First and foremost your leaders must be committed to upholding your values no matter what.
Being committed may seem like a no brainer, but when a situation comes up that calls for a difficult decision, it can be tempting to forget the values. If one of your values is respect in the workplace and you have a key, brilliant executive who is a well-known tyrant, are you willing to confront the issue and invite them to leave if they refuse to change? If your values include quality in your products, can you turn down a client if they ask you to cut corners for the sake of speed?
Nothing will kill your efforts faster than leaders who do not lead by example. Your values will be rendered meaningless, which creates cynicism, destroys employee engagement and reduces productivity. Bottom line: it’s bad for business.
Tips for working on your own values
Developing your corporate values takes time. The process should never be rushed. Leave room for reflection to make sure you can actually live with them.
1. Pull together members of your organization. Include your leadership and also involve a broad representation of your employees and members of your customer groups and partners.
2. Share stories to uncover what’s actually important to your company. Ask questions like why did you want to join the company? Why do you continue to work here? Why do you buy from us? Ask for tangible examples of a recent awesome moment or important decision that demonstrates what’s important to the company. Remember, values guide our behaviour and our decision-making.
3. As you go through the stories use a facilitator to listen for action verbs and capture the value statements.
4. Once all the values have been captured, identify the common ones and look for those that overlap with similar or same meanings. Get your list down to four or five key values to live by.
5. Now it’s time to ensure these really are your core values. Look at important decisions that were made in the past month or quarter. Identify where those values were not really honoured. On the other hand, what values were honoured when those decisions were made? Meticulously review every part of your operations to understand if there is any place in your organization where you cannot honour your values.
6. Now that you have your list of four or five core values, ensure your team can describe them in detail. Values must be seen as fundamental, enduring, and actionable. If they are too vague, no one will know how to follow them. The best test is to figure out how to explain them to a new employee, with concrete examples so they know what your values look like in action.
Living those values in the day to day
It will take time and effort to weave your values into everything you do, from your hiring methods to customer service. They will impact performance management, how you reward employees and dismissals. Your values will be at the heart of what you promise customers and how you react to complaints. You’ll witness a definite connection between your internal culture and the brand you present to the world.
When a company is operating according to its values, it’s like a well-oiled machine. There’s a surge of energy. It’ll be reflected in your employees, they’ll feel connected and proud of their work. Productivity can improve dramatically as teams and departments are aligned to the right priorities that support common goals. Conflicts are quickly mitigated and even prevented.
You’ll stand out against organizations that make empty promises. Your customers will see it too, making it easy to feel good about choosing you.
If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. Thank you! – Jackie Lauer, founder of Heart of Culture