Putting values at the centre of everything your organisation does can make all the difference in engaging and motivating employees
A guest blog post by Alan Williams, consultant, author and like-minded advocate of the importance of employee engagement.
As summer moves into autumn, I wonder if you’ve noticed the increasing focus on values all over the world in the past 12 months.
In June, the Mail on Sunday newspaper published an article by David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, about British values. Meanwhile in China, the All China Journalists’ Association recently ordered its journalists to learn “Marxist news values”.
It’s happening in sport, too. In English football’s Premier League, the coach of newly promoted Burnley, Sean Dyche, said: “It’s very difficult to be successful without key core values… when Spain win the World Cup… or Oxford win the Boat Race, it’s rare that the first person who speaks says: ‘We were far more skillful.’ Instead, they tell of the work ethic, the respect in the group, the camaraderie and honesty. It’s what I look for in my team.”
The England women’s rugby team won the World Cup in August, another step for the country’s Rugby Football Union in delivering against its purpose: To grow rugby in England through our values and performance. The RFU’s Core Values project is the first time that a sport has defined its value system in formal terms:
In this organisational context, values are moving from a PR exercise to become the guiding compass, not only for progressive, enlightened organisations but for more well-established corporates, too.
Beyond individual organisations, a UK movement – the UK Values Alliance – has been launched to put values at the heart of society. It’s likely to spawn a global network of similar movements.
The enduring power of corporate culture
Articulating ‘the way we do things around here’ through an explicit set of core values empowers employees to make decisions and facilitates creativity and innovation. The resulting corporate culture is powerful, as Ivan Misner, quoting Peter Drucker, reminds us: “Culture will always eat strategy for breakfast.”
In what way? Here are summaries of two of the most compelling explanations of the enduring importance of culture:
- “Organisational culture does have an impact on financial performance. It provides additional evidence of the significant role of corporate culture not only in overall organisational effectiveness, but also in the so-called bottom line.” Eric Flamholtz
- “Without exception, the dominance and coherence of culture proved to be an essential quality of the excellent companies [we identified] ….. the stronger the culture and the more it was directed toward the marketplace, the less need was there for policy manuals, organisation charts or detailed procedure and rules.” Tom Peters & Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence
Just consider the example of Zappos.com. After just a decade of growth, this one-time shoe retailer was acquired by Amazon for more than $1.2bn. CEO Tony Hsieh and his team had built a unique corporate culture dedicated to employee empowerment and the promise of delivering happiness though satisfied customers and a valued workforce. Hsieh says: “We wanted to come up with a list of core values that were actually committable. By committable, we mean we actually hire and fire people based on each of those core values.”
The value of values in the digital age
The changing landscape for business is bringing values into even sharper focus. The internet and social media have brought greater transparency than ever before. Some years ago, it was possible for organisations to fabricate a marketing and PR ‘front’, but now the truth gets out – fast. Just look at the disappearance of the News of the World newspaper in the UK, a successful business since 1843 until advertisers and the general public turned against it for the way its employees behaved…allegedly.
Organisations are no longer what they say they are but what others say they are, and of course stakeholder perception is formed by the attitudes and actions of employees.
Exploring your organisation’s values
To explore your organisation’s values, consider this: If your organisation was a group of musicians, what group would it currently be? What would your music be like, your lyrics? How would the band members interact with each other and the fans? And, perhaps more importantly, what group would you like to be in future?
One member of a global corporate described their organisation as like a primary school orchestra, lots of enthusiasm but no direction or coordination and instruments that were long overdue an upgrade. They wanted to be like Rod Stewart, adapting their ‘brand’ to win new fans but, at the same time keeping the old fans. There was also something about the level of engagement: they wanted their customers to “be singing along with us and really enjoying being part of the performance”.
Time after time, this simple use of metaphor helps people think more creatively about their organisation’s values and feel less like they are being critical and more able to identify core issues.
When not singing about the livin’ being easy, Ella Fitzgerald (and Bananarama after her) sang: “T’ ain’t what you do, It’s the way that you do it, That’s what gets results.” What is the way you do it? And how alive are your organisation’s values?
This post was written by Alan Williams, consultant, author and like-minded advocate of the importance of employee engagement. It is adapted from the book Alan wrote with Dr Alison Whybrow, THE 31 PRACTICES – Releasing the Power of Your Organisational VALUES Every Day.
Alan is founder and director of SERVICEBRAND GLOBAL.