Company values: 4 steps to bring them to life

Most companies’ values aren’t doing what they were created to do, but they can be turned into something that truly unites and motivates a business.

Ask yourself: what are your organisational values? Can you list them immediately, or do you have to stop and think? Are they clear and concise?

If you can’t remember your stated values off the top of your head, what is the likelihood that they’re actually influencing your day-to-day behaviour — especially when you’re under pressure?

Sadly, most companies’ values aren’t doing what they were created to do. However, with some purposeful revisions, they can become something that truly unites and motivates a business.

Here are four steps for establishing and cultivating meaningful and effective values for your business:

1. Less is more

It’s fairly standard for businesses to establish five to 10 core values and then execute a communications campaign around them. After the campaign however, they are often forgotten and neglected, and business goes on as usual. Then, of course, people get cynical about them.

The more values you list, the less likely people are to even remember them, let alone follow them in practice.

As such, keep it simple. The fewer values you establish, the easier it will be to remember and cultivate them.

2. Establish clear behavioural standards around your values

The entire purpose of establishing and cultivating values is to influence behaviour, which in turn determines your culture. If your values don’t influence behaviour, they are pointless.

Each value you establish should be accompanied by clear, tangible, observable and measurable behavioural standards. Consider the following:

• What does living this value look like in practice?

• How do we know when we’ve violated the value?

• How do we know when to correct our course, and even what to fix?

Only by knowing the specific behaviour attached to those values – and ensuring this is understood across the business – can we hold people accountable for these values.

3. Create an agreed story around the values

In order for leaders to bring values to life and provide context, there must be a shared story around each stated value and behavioural standard. By this, I don’t mean a written story, but rather one that’s embodied in the words and actions of the leadership and, by default, the business at large.

Here’s an example around the value of ‘integrity’:

Value: Integrity

Behavioural standard: We follow through on commitments.

Shared story: Whatever we commit to – be it a new behaviour or a project deadline – we must take it extremely seriously and deliver, with no excuses. If we know we won’t be able to deliver, we need to have credible reasons and be proactive in communicating those reasons before any commitments are experienced as being broken.

Of course, your business will have its own values, standards and stories, but following this pattern will give your values a ‘sticky’ factor that will immediately make them more vibrant and memorable.

4. Consistently talk about your values and hold people accountable to them

Once you’ve established your values, talk about them regularly and demonstrate to people that you’re serious about them.

Acknowledge people who live these values in their behaviour and use them as shining examples to show others in your business that ‘This is what it looks like to live our values!’.

Hold people accountable for these values uncompromisingly; the minute you compromise them or allow others to, your team and your business will become cynical about them.

Bringing company values to life: a case study

One particular company does an amazing job of bringing its values to life, which is a primary reason why they won the Aon Hewitt Best of the Best Employer Award in 2011, and every year since. Here are some of the ways this remarkable company makes its values a daily part of the business:

Firstly, they check how well candidates align with their core organisational values in the recruitment phase, by asking specific questions such as, ‘What are your personal values?’. Once hired, an induction process instils the company values and their meaning in the staff member, covering in-depth insights like a results/values matrix that shows it’s not OK to get great results while violating these values, and vice versa.

Ongoing values work includes periodic team camps, performance reviews (in which the values are included), reward systems based on living the values through peer nominations, and the executive team revisiting the values regularly.

A general manager also instituted the ‘Champions League’ recognition system, to make the value of teamwork more tangible and to ensure people in support functions were recognised as much as the sales force for top-level results. The system involved peer-nominated awards for people in non-managerial roles who demonstrated outstanding customer focus. The winners were announced at a gala celebrating the company’s 50-year anniversary in Australia, where 250 people gave them a standing ovation for exemplifying the shared values.

Leading from values is about so much more than boosting the bottom line. It’s about creating a culture of wholeness and wellness. It’s about bringing out the best in ourselves and others. It’s about being true to ourselves.

If your business values aren’t shaping your company in a significant way, take some time to revisit them. Take the time to get this right; you and those you lead will be glad you did.

Michael Bunting is the founder of leadership consultancy WorkSmart Australia, author of The Mindful Leader and A Practical Guide to Mindful Meditation, and co-author of Extraordinary Leadership in Australia and New Zealand.

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