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“These are my values.. if you don’t like them, I have others! Groucho Marx

MP’s expenses, the press, the financial institutions, wherever you look, it seems there is certainly a need for re-examining and re-evaluating values. Says Jo Ayoubi, Director, Track Surveys Ltd.

The idea of business values seems to have become more of a marketing strapline than anything meaningful for many organisations; another form of PR – like CSR, diversity and talk of people being their ‘greatest assets’ – that doesn’t always reflect the reality in some places. No wonder we’re feeling let down and cynical. So how do we re-build business values? How do we re-establish trust in business and why is it so important? To answer the last question first, the only engine of economic recovery is business. Now, more than ever, we can’t rely on public funding and loans to support a healthy economy, so business is even more critical than before. So how can we, as HR professionals make a difference?

First, let’s throw away the corporate values statements; after all, what organisation doesn’t want to be customer-focused, engage its employees and add value with its goods and services? Actions ultimately come down to individuals, and individuals as part of teams. So only we, as individuals, can ultimately make a change in how we behave and the values we reflect; whether we’re a consultant, supervising a shop-floor team, managing a department or leading an organisation. And what we need is to start valuing thought, self-awareness and reflection over constant activity, busy-ness and a focus on results to the exclusion of everything else. The time has come for Reflective Intelligence. Reflective intelligence means taking the time to think about who we are, what we do and why we do it. It’s about not following the crowd blindly, but stepping back and observing, considering and making a decision how to proceed. It’s about not doing what’s fashionable or trendy, but what I, individually, know is right. And, as a leader, what I do will be what the people in my circle of influence do.

There is great power in doing what you know is right; you will influence others and create a better set of business values, without necessarily talking or making a fuss about it. We can start in our own HR teams, with our internal clients and customers, and with our suppliers.

Secondly, and here comes reflection again, we need to understand how our own actions in business affect people around us. Those people can be our employees, our customers, our suppliers and pretty much anyone who comes into contact with us. Some reflection will tell us that, while bottom line results are really important, how we achieve those results is equally important. Let’s not be embarrassed to say that we, as business leaders, want to have a positive rather than a negative effect on others; that we want to do the right thing and that doing the right things make it a better world for everyone. And even from a numbers point of view, happy employees and customers have a better effect on the bottom line than dissatisfied employees and customers!

Instead of the fairly blinkered and limited view of business reflected by TV programmes like Dragons Den and The Apprentice, let’s start celebrating the entrepreneurs who built long-lasting, successful and sustainable businesses while demonstrating values that are more than just financial. Step forward John Cadbury, John Spedan Lewis, the Johnson brothers (Johnson & Johnson) and, more recently, Innocent, Green & Blacks, Ben & Jerry’s and Dorset Cereals; all of whom combine profitability with doing the right things, both inside and outside their companies. So what exactly are the business values we want to build? A sense of responsibility for a wider group than ‘just me’, a concern for the effect we have on others and not achieving results at the expense of everything and everyone else.

And, as leaders in our own right, we in HR have to reflect on who we are and how our organisations are reflections of our values, our behaviours and our personalities. Like it or not, what we do and what we say, everyday, filters down to our people, our teams, our customers and our suppliers. So, if we truly want to make a change in the values of the business world, we have to start with ourselves. Do we really know what we stand for and do our behaviours reflect that? How do other people really see us? Confucius said it best: “When we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves”.

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