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Company values – can they be worth more than the poster they’re written on?

On Valentine’s Day, a customer service manager at Coloplast, a global medical products and services company, asked his team to bring in a photo of a loved one, be it a brother, wife or friend. In the morning team meeting, the director encouraged everyone to display the image on their desk. This, he explained, was to act as a reminder that every single caller was also a much loved husband, mother or grandparent. Their customers weren’t account numbers or policy references – they were real people with real lives and emotions.

It’s a simple but wonderful example of inspiring employees to deliver the company’s ‘customer excellence’ value and shows in practical terms what it means to engage staff in key behaviours associated with any given value. Forget process, customer efficiency or call handling times, the objective that day was to remind people of their direct influence on the hearts and minds of their customers.

Like ‘engagement’ the word ‘values’ within the corporate environment is so overused and needs redefining. What we’re really talking about is what do we value as a company and how does that drives the way we work and behave, yet this often gets lost in elaborate language and gimmicks – think mouse mats, values posters, screen savers.

In the three key pillars of culture, what we believe, how we behave and what we use[1], the mouse mats, posters and screensavers are part of what we use – the tools, processes and structures that enable engagement with a company’s values.  If we want people to truly believe in the values and behave in a way that is aligned with them, we need to invest much more in the first two pillars to explain our corporate ‘why’ and what that really means.

Where 70 per cent of values programmes in organisations fail to make a difference, UKTV, who has recently reported record financial results in a struggling sector, cites its work on values and culture change as the main driver behind its phenomenal growth since 2011. We worked with UKTV to define a strategy, facilitate and coach the executive leadership team, develop talent strategy and deliver all-company engagement with a new direction. Starting with the three pillars of culture I’ve just described – UKTV’s journey took them right back to the starting point of values and behaviours so that they could discover and develop what it meant to be UKTV, launch those to internal and external stakeholders and consistently invest in sustaining and embedding the resulting behaviours. It’s one exemplary example of how when you invest in the discovery and develop phase[2] of your corporate values, the resonance it can have is significant.

Understanding your values is one thing – developing that thought process into a creative values piece with traction, that is bespoke and relevant to your organisation is another. We’ve all read about Pfizer’s ‘Own It’ coin and acronym where the ‘N’ stands for ‘No Jerk’ – people were struck by the language of it and it really shaped behaviour because it was very clear what they meant. Another good example is Netflix, where in a company with very little policy or procedure, one key value is to ‘do the right thing.’ It has real cut through within the context of the Netflix culture.

The other corporate phrase that gets used a lot is ‘living the values’ but companies can’t expect employees to just read values on a poster, hear about them in a presentation and start ‘living them’. CooperVision, a manufacturer of contact lenses, wanted to dial up how much it lived its value to be ‘inventive’. We delivered a series of workshops to help people to focus on the everyday, practical ways they could deliver a culture of inventiveness. Central to this was busting the myth that being inventive was only about coming up with alternative, ‘crazy’ resource intense ideas. It helped people to understand that they have a power to influence and that they could own the actions that build cultures.

Community Health Partnerships provides another great example where they refreshed their vision and values, relaunching them as ‘The CHP Way’ – the way in which employees were expected to behave and do business to exceed customer expectations. ‘The CHP Way’ has been brought to life in every aspect of the business, from the appraisals process to recruitment, to aggressively align behaviours from the top down, right through the heart of the organisation. Employees’ KPIs and annual performance ratings are now based on achievement of objectives throughout the year as well as critically, the way they were achieved as they work to instill the key ‘CHP Way’ behaviours into their organisation.

What we value defines us as human beings. It drives every decision we make and the way we live our lives. It is no different when it comes to corporate values. Companies who understand who they are, why that is and what drives them to be successful and who carefully craft their organisational values in a language that speaks to their employees and customers will reap the rewards every time.

[1] Copyright The Culture Builders

[2] Copyright The Culture Builders

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