Embedding company values

A version of this article appeared on BusinessZone.co.uk on 28th June 2016. Ashley is the Founder/CEO of Culture Engineers, a consultancy focused on helping companies build stronger cultures, and in turn more successful businesses. Over her career, Ashley has developed internal and external communication and marketing plans for start-ups and mature global businesses, and she has a passion for inside out brand development.

Pretty much every office you walk into these days seems to have a mural of words on the walls, things like: Integrity, Customer first, Transparency, Creativity. 

Company values are starting to feel almost too fashionable these days, yet values are a key part of a company’s DNA and its brand, and always have been. They differentiate your business, should inspire great behaviours, and align your team and future hires around specific actions in order to be to the company you want to be, and achieve the goals and vision you aim to reach.  

But some nice plaques on your walls are simply not enough when it comes to values. In fact, I suspect most of the companies involved in the 2007-08 financial crisis and the number of scandals affecting various sectors and institutions over recent years did in fact have “values”. So what went wrong?

Sadly, they were just words on paper or walls. From hiring and training to performance reviews and how you manage people and work together, values and their corresponding behaviours need to be embedded in all that you do as you hold yourselves and each other accountable for living and breathing these ideals.

More importantly, it’s not just a one-time exercise. Embedding is continuous -- behaviours need to be established and constantly reinforced. You should continuously listen and get feedback in order to quickly identify if things go off course because here are many forces that can in fact weaken a great culture throughout time. Every growing business risks hiring the wrong people, communication challenges grow as you have more staff and more locations, and M&A or international growth can bring different company and national cultures into play. Old practices and processes may no longer be fit for purpose. Clarity of strategy, vision and values may blur. 

So, how do you go about continually embedding once you’ve defined the values and behaviours you aspire your organisation to have? Here are some suggestions:

1 – Map out your employee / customer journey
Map out your employee and customer journeys (and other key stakeholders as applicable) to identify various touch points and focus on key processes and practices where you can reinforce values and behaviours. 

For example: In the recruitment process, how do you evaluate whether or not potential employees exhibit the values/behaviours you wish to hire for? Obviously, interviews should include situational questions which help to assess required behaviours or demonstrate examples of living specific values. A former COO of Coca Cola I know, interviewed potential candidates in restaurants, outside of the office. The whole concept was to see how they treat the waiter/waitress. He said, you can see more about their values than by sitting in an office. On paper, a candidate might seem like the perfect person, but you need to understand how he/she will interact and set the example for a team of 1,000. 

What sort of guidelines do you give your call centre team? How do you go about showcasing this? Continually educating, training and giving specific examples of expected behaviours and actions is key.

2 – Model your values and behaviours
Your leadership needs to be clear about the behaviours and actions they need to uphold and role model these to the organisation. As a leader, they are looked up to, so if they aren’t living the values of the company, you can’t expect the broader team to.

As part of on-boarding, you might consider partnering newcomers with a leader or a mentor who is recognized by their peers and managers as star employee in order to set the tone and give new joiners the chance to more closely observe the behaviours you aim for the organization to have.

3 – Ask the team to contribute ideas to encourage commitment
In developing ways to embed values and programmes, your people should be given opportunities to weigh in, to help build ownership and commitment. 

As part of a recent workshop we at Culture Engineers ran during the Growth Builder programme (www.growth-builder.com), we conducted a prize draw, based on similar principles from Daniel Kahneman’s (Israeli-American psychologist), famous lottery ticket experiment. 

We gave half the attendees a random number 1-100, and the other half a blank piece of paper where they could write any number they chose, 1-100. Shortly before revealing the winning number, we offered to let anyone who was assigned a number, the chance to write their own number. The rational answer in these sorts of experiments of course is that there really is no difference, given a draw is pure chance, thus each number has the same odds of winning. However, several in the group wished to trade out their number. When we asked ‘why’, the answers were things like: ‘got to take control’, ‘already had a number in mind’, etc. 

This illustrates a reality of human nature: that when we choose for ourselves vs. being passive recipients, we are more committed to the outcome — so by encouraging people to take ownership and asking them for ideas of how to put the values into practice, it increases the chance that they will commit to bringing the values to life. 

In one instance, when rolling out a new recognition programme, we facilitated a group of employees to help develop the recognition programme for staff globally vs. the HR team rolling a programme out on their own. The employees came up with a prestigious award based on recognising recipients for traits/actions aligned with core values (the nomination had to have examples of specific examples of how they were doing this). The previous winners were the ones who reviewed the applications and selected the new recipients each time, as well as presented the awards (as it was deemed they were worthy to select a winner having already been recognised as a star employee).  

4 – Consistently share stories of your values in action
From onboarding videos that highlight stories of how people have lived and breathed the core values of the organization, to company newsletters, quarterly meetings, and team meetings, sharing stories is a great way to embed your values. 

And, I guess, why not, put them up on the wall too if you’d like, just be sure they aren’t just in fact, words on the wall!

Checklist: Where have you embedded your core values?
•    CEO Support / management team behaviours
•    Recruiting and hiring
•    On-boarding
•    Training
•    Performance appraisals
•    Promotions
•    Employee recognition
•    Customer call centre / Front line sales
•    Stakeholder relationships (suppliers, partners, clients)
•    Perks & benefits (Nonmonetary rewards)
•    Incentive compensation
•    Internal communications
•    External communications
•    Internal monitoring/audit
•    Policies (expense, travel, secondments)
•    Contracts
•    Office environment
•    Employee departures
•    Restructuring
•    Alumni programmes
•    Other