As people, our values are our deepest driving force. They govern our lives in every way: what we do and say, the decisions we make and the actions we take, and through those actions, they influence how other people perceive us and what they say about us to others, which impacts on our reputation.
When it comes to company values it’s no different.
How many times have you heard a company refer to their people as their most valuable asset, or, to excellence being what they strive for, or innovation being at the heart of everything they do?
These words are a clear assertion of a value and a value is quite simply a word or phrase that defines something that the business values: in other words, something that it considers important.
Values make up the ethos of a business and, forming the foundation of everything that happens, both inside and outside of the workplace.
They represent the beliefs, principles, attitudes, qualities or traits, that are considered highest priority and so they at the heart of what the business stands for.
They are how the business ultimately resonates with its people, its clients/customers, its suppliers and stakeholders, and with the wider world, influencing how the business is perceived by others, what people say about it and therefore the reputation it has in the world. And of course reputation plays an important role in the decisions people make about who to work with and for and who to do business with (if you’ve ever made a decision to work with a person or business or to buy a product or service based purely on reputation, then you’ll have seen this process at work).
So, that’s all well and good, but how do values add actual value to a business?
Values are powerful because they define what’s important. How they really add value to a business is when they manifest in the actual behaviour of the people in the business.
This is about translating ethos (values) into culture (behaviour).
In order for an ethos to manifest in culture, it needs to be fully integrated within the business, to the extent that it influences and drives how the people in the business deal with each other and how clients and customers are served and treated. That way, the values are visible to people, both inside and outside of the business which affects peoples’ perception and in turn their decisions and actions.
Culture is what’s actually being lived in the business.
Whether this work has been done officially or not, values already exist in the business.
People have been recruited based on them and they’ve been trained, measured, rewarded and promoted based on them too. People have also been let go based on them.
Equally, values are present in the daily decision making, interactions and action taking that’s happening in the business right now.
- So, whilst ‘integrity’ might be cited as a company value, if the reality is that when someone in the business makes an error, they conceal it, make excuses and mislead the team or client, integrity is not actually present and the culture is one of ‘dishonesty’, or ‘back-covering’.
- If ‘putting people before profits’ is cited as a value, but in reality, decisions are made without the input or consideration of the people and there is an absence of any mechanisms to support the people, then ‘people before profits’ is not actually present and the culture is one of ‘profits first’.
- And if ‘equality’ is a value, but the reality is that there is a clear chain of command and obvious status symbols for specific people only, then equality is not present and the culture is one where rank is significant.
Just like consumers, businesses have a choice. They can leave the values of the company up to the individual behaviours of the people in the business, or they can invest the time and resources to proactively and intentionally define the core values that will be the driving force behind it and to shape a culture that best serves the people: it’s team, clients/customers and best drives the growth and/or success of the business.
Identifying your businesses values and defining the culture that they inform may sound like a ‘nice-to-have’, but in reality, it is a highly strategic piece of work and when done right, one that will greatly influence the future success of the business.