Living the values
17 Aug 2021 by Steven Giannoulis
We work with many clients to develop effective internal communication programmes that drive engagement, build culture, align behaviours with strategic intent and foster a high-performance team environment.
One of the questions I often get asked is how “do we bring the values alive and make them a bigger part of how we do things around here?” That’s a challenge all businesses – including ours – face and it’s one worth tackling because the results in every part of your business can be staggering.
The thing is that there isn’t a standard answer that works for every business. Here’s some things I’ve seen work well for our clients. And because we advise clients on it, we also work hard to live the values at our place. I’ve included examples and learnings from what we’ve done over the last six or so years.
One of the best ways to get staff engaged with the values is to have staff come up with them themselves. When I took over leadership at Insight we already had values but they weren’t fully understood or lived. I got a group of staff together to determine the values bottom up. They engaged other staff and came up with our five values. Not surprisingly, they weren’t too different from the values we already had. The key difference is that staff felt they came up with them and they were expressed in terms that connected for them. We launched them and made a big deal of ensuring a good understanding of what they mean and how to live them.
As new people join, existing staff can easily explain the values and what they mean. There’s an overall sense that the values are owned by the team and therefore something individuals are more likely to want to adhere to.
Align with Strategy
For many organisations, values sit to the side without a clear link back to the strategy and business plan. This makes it hard for staff to understand the role of the values in their, and the company’s, success. We help many companies develop a ‘strategy on a page’ type of visual approach that lets staff see a straight line between the mission or purpose of the organisation, the strategy, the key business initiatives and the values that underpin how they do business. This helps staff understand why the values are important for them, for the business and for customers. At Insight we run an annual Strategy Day with the full team where we review the year that was and map out the key focus and activities for the year ahead. The values feature prominently in these conversations, aligning past success and planned activities directly to them.
It starts with management
As much as I’ve talked about things that work, the one thing that surely kills values is management not actively living them. And that’s fair enough. If the leadership team don’t embody and live the values, you have no right to ask staff to do so. As a leader, my focus is on ensuring my actions and communications demonstrate the values and that I’m supporting my direct reports to do the same. Only then can I begin to expect the same from others.
Bring values into the everyday
On a daily basis, there’s lot of things for staff to remember from processes, to clients, through to business priorities. It’s not surprising that the values sometimes get lost in the noise. We encourage all our clients to put the values up, as visual reminders, on their office walls and on screen savers. At Insight all staff have a notebook for meetings. We feature the values prominently in this, meaning they are present in every discussion we have. I have a values email footer and use this on ‘all staff’ communications. And when I write my monthly CEO Update I make sure the values are both implicit and explicit in the things I talk about.
And we actively encourage staff to use the values language in their communications with each other. Client-first, as-one and real are three of our values and you see these words in communications between individuals and teams on a regular basis.
Recognise & Reward
It’s human nature that we gravitate towards activities that are recognised and celebrated by our bosses and our peers. It’s only natural then that we should include our company values in this. All our staff have a base set of ‘competencies’ that are required of everyone that works here. They are also part of the skills we seek to grow and foster in individuals. As part of our performance review process, we have a 360 feedback component where peers provide feedback based on the values and competencies.
We also have a monthly Star Award, where last month’s winner appoints the next winner and writes a few lines explaining why they are giving it to them. That explanation talks about how they lived one or more of the values.
And finally, it comes through in the stories we share with each other on our intranet. As we celebrate our work and the achievements of our people we always seek to tie them back to the values, helping to positively reinforce what living the values looks like.
Express them externally
I’ve seen many businesses who have a set of values but only express them internally. When they talk to their customers, shareholders or communities, the values are replaced with the things they think each of these audiences want to hear. Running staff focus groups for a client recently I was struck by comments like “doing whatever it takes to make a sales means the values sometimes go out the door” or “we talk about sustainability to customers but that’s not something we talk about internally.”
These sort of stories diminish the importance of the values and makes staff wonder if they are truly the things the company values. At Insight, we include our values on our website, marketing and credentials material and also include them in every new business proposal we put forward. Our values are core to who we are and we use them to attract like-minded customers and staff.
Make values part of doing business
Where we all need to get to with values is that they become core to the decisions and actions we take every day. This means they feature in all our core business activities from inducting new staff, to writing and assessing business cases, to Board reporting, to new business proposals, to reviewing performance, to process and customer experience design, right through to staff exit interviews. It gets to the point where they become like breathing – we live them without even thinking about it.
Embedding values is a process and it takes time but it’s an effort worth making. When you get there, you’ll find an organisation with a strong and aligned culture that retains and attracts the right staff, partners and customers. It’s a happy and productive place where the actions and behaviours of everyone in the business is aligned, and self-policing, making working together towards a common purpose achievable.
At Insight Creative, I wouldn’t say we are there yet but we’ve come a long way and that’s supported our growth across multiple aspects.