By Scott McInnes, Founder, Inspiring Change
Organisational values are the lifeblood of your enterprise. They add colour, context and, most importantly of all, meaning to what you and your teams achieve. An organisation without values will inevitably lack direction and suffer from low morale, high labour turnover and all the associated performance issues that come with an apparently purposeless job.
What is equally dangerous is having established organisational values but not investing time and energy in bringing them to life. What’s the point in having values if people cannot experience them or be guided by what your organisation stands for?
Values-driven workplaces are not just happier places to be, they are likely to be the engine room of profitable, high value enterprises. If this is what you want your organisation to be – and let’s face it, why wouldn’t you? – read on for five top ways leaders can bring organisational values to life.
The best and worst thing about core values in general is that they are very difficult – maybe impossible – to change. Take a moment to think about your own personal brand. This is layer upon layer of attributes, such as your behaviours, the way you dress, your communication skills, and so on. Your own values are the inner layer. The core. Try changing that.
The reason why the permanence of values is such a double-edged sword is that if you have employed people who are aligned with your organisational values, then you automatically have culture champions who will carry the torch for you and your fellow leaders.
Leaders will inspire those around them through living and working in-tune with these values. Inevitably, there will also be those are indifferent to your organisational values. Worse still, some people who might subconsciously oppose them will slip through the net. Make peace with knowing that you’ll never win over these individuals.
Bringing values to life begins before people are hired. Take some time to review your talent acquisition materials. Work your organisational values into job descriptions and person specifications to attract people who resonate with your culture. Create behavioural interview questions which will allow them to demonstrate how they have worked to the beat of similar values before.
For example, if one of your core values is the mental and physical wellbeing of stakeholders, ask the candidate a question like:
“Give me an example of a time where you have helped a colleague to manage their stress levels?”.
Once you have attracted the most aligned individuals, you need to onboard them in the right way and ensure that the employer value proposition you have offered is carried through into their actual experience.
This leads very nicely onto the Three Rs…
The Three Rs of ‘Reinforce’, ‘Recognise’ and ‘Reward’
It’s not cheating to put three points into one, but if you think it is, then let’s focus on reinforcement.
Don’t shudder, but by itself, reinforcement sounds a little like ‘brainwashing’, which rarely works if used as part of an attempt to bring values to life. Leaders acting as enforcers will turn people off an organisational culture at the flick of a switch. This is where the other two Rs come into the ring.
Publicly recognise your superstars who are embodying your organisational values. Doing so will inspire others to do the same. As you recognise, offer examples to the audience of what has happened, and why it made a difference.
Build on your recognition and make it tangible through inclusive use of reward. Those employees who are consistently living your organisational values deserve a little extra something, right?
One way to make reward especially meaningful is to theme it to your values. Introduce initiatives such as a quarterly or annual ‘Culture Champion’ award or choose prizes and gifts which are aligned with the values. Whatever you do, do not forget the basics. Sometimes, the simplest value-based reward is saying “Thank you”.
The art of storytelling
Culture and values are like the secret sauce on otherwise characterless workplaces. Most well-intentioned organisations are similar; the philosophy behind how and why they work makes the difference. The best way to bring this this life – and feel free to call this the key to everything – is through storytelling.
Let’s not deny it; everyone loves a story. They are especially effective for adults to learn, with one study suggesting that people are twenty times more likely to remember a message if it is conveyed through storytelling.
But why is storytelling so powerful when it comes to values? Stories demonstrate behaviours. They bring attributes, feelings, and intangibles to life. Given that a lot of the time, organisational values have deep-seated roots and history, a story is the best way to share this and set the scene then, for example, clicking through a few PowerPoint slides.
Stories also create connections, and pique imaginations. They ensure that people will be thinking about your organisational values long after you have finished telling the tale.
Visualisation and storytelling go together like strawberries and cream. Whereas a well-told story will create powerful mental imagery which will bring your organisational values to life, the message can be driven home and sustained using posters and graphics.
Placing these thoughtfully – but not overbearingly – in high-traffic areas of your workspace will subtly remind people of your organisational values and, depending on the format of these values and what needs to be reinforced, might make them easier to commit to memory.
What could this imagery look like? Company culture and history can look great as a pictorial timeline. Posters and decals can convey values. But why not bring these values to life? Props, stationery, and even workplace design can all be curated to reflect the ethos of your organisation. Yes, you can make an intangible value, tangible.
Lead by example
Value-based recruitment, reinforcement, storytelling, and visualising will not count for much if your leadership isn’t embodying your organisational values in everything they do.
An essential part of strategic direction and driving any culture, leading by example starts with ensuring you have the right leaders holding the reins. The right individuals are inspirational and hands-on managers, living the values through the way they act and conduct themselves.
Leaders must be aware that actions certainly do speak louder than words, but to lead by example, their verbiage and spoken communication must be thoroughly and diligently ‘on brand’ too, otherwise, the message will become muddled.
Leading by example also requires treading a fine line between taking responsibility and letting the organisation naturally do its thing. Yes, leaders can champion the values, and part of this is through refinement. However, if your leadership is a little too, shall we say ‘overzealous’ in doing this, then their impact can be detrimental to the very values you and your peers have worked so hard to instil.
The solution to this takes confidence but works wonders. Take one step back and let your teams absorb organisational values in their way. Leverage culture champions to do the hard work, and hire right, the first time. Oh, and learn to tell incredible stories.
Please do not view these five tips as five quick solutions to bring organisational values to life. Believing that values can be implemented like an attendance policy is wrong, and counterintuitive. Values began when your organisation began. They stand the test of time and evolve – but rarely change – over time.
When it comes to bringing values to life, imagining that you are taking that long-overdue holiday and settle in for the long haul.
Focus on – and sustain – your organisational values at every stage of the employee life cycle.
Hiring people with like-minded values makes subsequent interventions much easier. Reinforcing values positively and lightly using recognition and reward will inspire people to follow suit. Storytelling is your value-sharing, value-living superpower. Leading by example brings it all together.
Bringing organisational values to life begins with you but involves everyone. They are the most powerful performance tool you have at your disposal, so make them count.
Founder, Inspiring Change
Scott has worked in communications for nearly 25 years, most of which has been spent in Dublin, Ireland. In 2017, following a five-year stint at AIB, he founded Inspiring Change, Ireland's only strategic internal communications and culture consultancy.
At his core is a desire to create strong people connections. And that's what Inspiring Change does too - helping clients to connect their people to their strategy, change programmes, purpose and each other in a much more human way. How? By helping them to focus on how they communicate with, lead and engage their people to build great cultures.
Inspiring Change has worked with brands including Dixons Carphone, Vhi, Danske Bank, Ervia and Enterprise Ireland.