Is there any value in your company values?
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume everyone reading this has been part of a company that has had a published set of values. I’m also going to make the bold assumption that for most of you these values don’t really affect your day-to-day working life all that much.
Walk around most corporate offices, or read any of their published material, and you’ll undoubtedly see a list of core values the company strives for. These will probably include generically noble values such as ‘honesty’, ‘integrity’, ‘customer focus’, ‘collaboration’ and ‘innovation’. I have nothing against any of these values, and in the right setting they can be useful drivers of behaviour; the unfortunate thing is they’re usually not used this way.
In fact, there are several sources, including research from Dr Brene Brown, that suggests only 10% of companies have actually operationalised their values, meaning that for the vast majority of workplaces, they’re still little more than words on a page.
I’d like to share my views on how you can get better value from your Values. I will briefly take you through four challenges that business routinely face, and pose some different ways to approach their creation and implementation.
Challenge 1: What are these things even for?
Why do we create a set of corporate values in the first place? Well… it’s just what everyone does… right? We have our Mission, our Vision, and our Values. These guide what we do and how we run our business, the aspirations around which we can build goals, objectives, KPIs etc.
So, what is the role of corporate values? I believe the greatest role values can play is to guide HOW the decisions are made in pursuit of the Vision and Mission.
To play out an example of this, let’s consider a scenario where a core value is ‘collaboration’. You have a technically high performing team member who refuses to work with others and has become a key positional risk within their organisation due to their hoarding of operational intelligence. Using your values as a part of your decision-making framework helps you be clear on what is really valued, helps you to lead and govern consistently, and provides clear messages to your team on what is prioritised.
Challenge 2: Too much, or too little collaboration
It’s not too often you’ll hear me say business leaders collaborate or communicate too much, but this is one of the times when it can be applicable. I strongly believe in engaging with your teams when values are created, but what I often see is a crowd-sourced set of values that are not unique to the company culture, but rather an amalgamation of every individuals’ personal values. Instead of having a clear and concise set of values people can rally behind, you end up with a list of values that everyone can live with – a product of compromised consensus that become generic.
Of course the opposite of this is no collaboration at all, where the CEO or Executive team tell their teams what the corporate values are with no engagement at all. This is a sure-fire way to ensure the values remain nothing more than a poster on the wall!
Challenge 3: They’re all so… vanilla
How much variation can we really get with a set of values? Sure, there are a finite number of values to choose from, but understanding how they will be used, and elevating their importance, will make you think about choosing them in a different way. You may not have worked in an environment with a great set of values, but it is definitely possible to create. This is where the art of collaborating, refining and communicating the values comes into play.
Also, my apologies to all the vanilla afficionados out there, it really is one of the best flavours.
Challenge 4: Your values are not my values
The final point to consider is that there will often be an element of incongruence between the company values and each individual’s personal values. This is not something to shy away from, but rather is an opportunity to create further richness in decision making. The safe option is to make these values so generic that any differences have no real impact (see Challenge 2). The other, more challenging but more rewarding option, is to take the time to understand your team members’ personal values and drivers, and how they interact with the Company values.
There is no requirement to have complete alignment, but understanding where there is likely to be friction is a step toward transparent and consistent decision making and execution. As a side benefit, understanding your team members’ personal values also makes performance and career discussions a lot richer!
Lastly, I encourage you to see your values as a real part of your company DNA; a part of your unique identity and brand. In a sea of companies and agencies with similar offerings, showing who you really are will help you to attract and select talent in an increasingly competitive market.
If this has made you re-think your corporate values and you would like to talk about how to get the most out of this process, please contact us at Synergy IQ. We would love to help you re-think your set of values and help you drive greater clarity and performance.