Every business has a set of values that they tell the world about, but do they live by these values?
All too often, the values are laminated, put on a wall and ignored. Managers are neither held to account nor do they hold their staff to account for deviating from the values. If asked intellectually what do their values mean, they can explain what they mean, however, if challenged when deviating from the values there is always an explanation, a set of special circumstances that mean the values don’t apply. The more money that is involved in following the values, the more pressure the employee feels to make an exception. The problem is increased if the mission and vision are inconsistent with the values, or the employees are not connected to the values. Here are some tips for ensuring that your values are lived not laminated.
- Select the right team to set values
Values are typically set by the management team. What happens when there is a conflict between the business practices and the new values? Will the management team even recognise the conflict? Involving staff at different levels creates an opportunity for assumptions and biases to be challenged. Management must listen to the issues raised and discuss the challenges that will be faced throughout the organisation arising from the values choices.
- Ensure there are not too many values
If you have more than four or five key values, they become hard to remember. If your employees can’t remember the values, how do you expect them to implement your values. Distilling your values to such a small list is difficult, you must decide what really matters.
- Create a red flag mechanism
For the values to have meaning there must be a mechanism to raise conflict between values and actions that is transparent to employees. It is inevitable that there will be challenges in upholding the values, times when the actions that seem obvious are in conflict with one or more of the values. The temptation is always to say that the circumstances are unique or unprecedented, you can’t expect the values to be upheld, or our competitors aren’t restricted in the same way. There are many excuses used to deviate from the values. Having a red flag mechanism enables everyone in the business to raise a concern and also allows the business to stop and choose a different action that is compatible with the values.
- Communicate the values
For the values to be meaningful they must be communicated to everyone in the organisation. Communication does not mean laminate the values and place them on every notice board, although this can be done. Communicate the values through briefing sessions and open discussions, give your teams the opportunity to explore what the values mean and how they will impact on their daily activities. Acknowledge the things that need to change and commit to the changes. Most importantly communicate that this is not a fad, it is the new normal. Your integrity will be judged on how well your future behaviour implements the declared values.
- Use the values to make decisions
Once the value set is agreed, they MUST be used. Ideally, the use of values will be overt and obvious. For example, at the start of a meeting, state the values and remind everyone that all actions must be consistent with the values. At the end of a meeting, review actions agreed against the values of the business. Ask if the actions are consistent with the values. If any action is inconsistent with the values revisit the issue and determine an alternative action. Include a review of values in non-conformance and complaint handling processes. Adhering to values is easy when there are no challenges, you will only know if the values are important when the business is under pressure.
- Hold everyone accountable for upholding the values
If the business believes in its values, everyone will adhere to them. From the chairman to the cleaner, everyone must uphold and implement the values, no-one is exempt from them. Values set the character of the business, and like a person, the business behaviours must be consistent with its expressed values. If the business does not adhere to its own values, the stakeholders will create their own set of values for the business based on its behaviours. Be warned that these values are unlikely to showcase your business favourably!
Values communicate the character of your business to all of the stakeholders, it is easy to write a set of values that looks good, but adhering to them is much harder. Laminating your values is worse than not documenting them IF you don’t uphold them.
My advice is to document your values after careful consideration then adhere to them with discipline and rigour.