"Until we start living our Values, they will remain just words on a mouse mat, on our intranet and on the walls of our buildings", said the CEO of a company I've recently been working with, in a message to staff.
And he's right.
When I talked about North Stars and company mission a few blogs ago, we didn’t really touch on values. Strong and relevant values are the building blocks of a company, they underpin the culture and act as signposts to ‘how we do things around here’.
Truth be told, if you go to 10 different companies you'll probably find 10 sets of values that are probably combinations of 'simplicity', 'togetherness', 'purpose', 'openness', 'empowerment', 'clarity', 'customer first', etc etc
I'm not saying that any of them are bad - they're not, they're all great. In fact, if every company in the land had exactly the same values that would be OK - as long as they resonated with their people and they understood and applied them every day. And, ultimately, that those values became the status quo.
For that to happen, people need to see examples of what good looks like - what does it mean to be 'straightforward', 'commercial' or 'clear'? What do 'Lead with Integrity', 'Have Fun' or 'Act with Purpose' ACTUALLY look like in practice? So organisations need to bring their employees on that journey by creating connections between their actions and those 'words on a mouse mat'.
Bringing values to life
So whose responsibility is it to bring values to life across an organisation? The CEO? Managers? The internal comms team? The staff?
For me it's ALL of the above - here are a few successful ways I've done it in organisations:
Storytelling is the single best way to highlight how staff are bringing an organisation's values to life. In team meetings it's the responsibility of staff and managers to call it when a value is at play - I've created team talk kits and reminder slides to help managers to do that. CEO and Exec Team notes should highlight examples of values coming to life in their communications. And, for internal comms teams, clearly signpost how stories on the intranet andon other channels, link back to the values, clearly showing staff what great looks like.
Recognition programmes that are underpinned by an organisation's values give staff the chance to recognise unsung heroes in their organisations. And at the same time it gives the internal comms team a great opportunity to uncover stories across the organisation that are normally buried and really hard to find
Performance Management isn't strictly an internal communications channel but it is a very powerful way to embed the values in an organisation. It's easy for people to hit targets but it they do that in a way that's contrary to the values an organisation wants to live by, should that have an impact on their performance rating? In my opinion yes, because it's serious contributory factor in the values gap.
Beware the values gap
The values gap is what happens when - and I paraphrase - 'you don't put your money where your mouth is'. Put simply, it's what happens in a company when what we say we do (our values) and what we actually do (our behaviors and actions) are different. We've all been there - the employee we know who isn't living our values but still gets the plaudits, the promotion and the 'employee of the month' trophy. It undermines everything that creating a set of corporate values in pursuit of a corporate culture and, ultimately, vision, is trying to do.
What does success look like?
Perhaps it sounds counter intuitive but, for me, ultimate success lies in organisations NOT talking about their Values. True success is when those things become so pervasive, so intertwined in company culture, so second nature that they don't need to be called out any more, because they just become 'the way we do things around here' and that's the end of it.
PS - There was a good reason for this week's blog - this Thursday is World Values Day. They've got a super site up with some really good ideas and tools that are definitely worth exploring - www.worldvaluesday.com.