If you don’t know what defines your company, you risk losing what makes it different as the business grows.
“Strong company values impact every facet and process of an organisation, including decision-making, goal setting and recruitment,” explains Peter Lawrence of human resources consultancy Human Capital Department.
But for values to help shape vision and give direction leaders need to “live” the company values day-to-day, so that they become ingrained in the culture. Effective leaders ensure that their co-workers are focused on the organisation’s values, while promoting a shared social identity.
How do company values impact day to day work practices?
An independent social care owner believes that the owner’s own personal values become the values of the company. “If you try to create business values that aren’t really the same as your personal values, they don’t come across as authentic”.
Peter Lawrence suggests the approach of clarifying your own personal values before articulating those of the business, and recommends asking the following questions for clarity:
- What do you believe?
- What’s important to you?
- How are you demonstrating your beliefs to the world and your customers?
- How is the world made better for your being here?
- How do your values and actions make your customers feel?
The sooner that you tackle these questions, the better: company values can be a work in progress that evolve as the company grows, but if you wait until the business is too big, it becomes complicated to define values.
Your company values probably already exist within your team. You don’t have to pull them out of thin air; they’re already there. It’s about how you draw them out of the people within your operation.
Company values need to be authentic. A Care Home Manager commented that:
“Whilst employed as the manager of a Care Home owned by a large corporate, it became clear that whilst the company claimed to put resident care first by providing well trained staff and support for managers, in practice they were focused on a micro-management and audit approach. The home managers were aware of the problems and how to address these, but senior management did not support which caused a disjointed approach, and the result was poor care and undervalued staff”.
How do you determine what the values are?
Scheduled discussions, Post-it note sessions and surveys can help tease out what staff think the values of the company are. But how do you distinguish values (which, by definition, should be measurable) from aspirations, which may be more general?
Take a characteristic about your company that’s important to its long-term success. If it’s sustainable and you can apply it to every area of the company – and it will help the company make huge decisions – then it’s probably a value.
To avoid values ending up as little more than a plaque in the company lobby, make them actionable too. That means using them in recruitment, and to benchmark your objectives against, but also referring to them when new challenges or opportunities arise to see how those align with your values.
“My current home is now owned by a small group whose values and beliefs centre around “MUM”; if it’s not good enough for your mum it’s not good enough for our residents. The owners truly care about their residents and staff”.
Building these values into the recruitment and induction processes will help you hire well. Ask values-based questions to understand potential employees’ values and motivators, and whether they’re a cultural fit with your business.
Your recruitment decisions – the kind of people whom you’re bringing into your growing company – will communicate more to existing employees about your true values and future business direction than anything you ever say.
A strong set of company values will also act as a tool to attract quality candidates. As millennials begin to dominate the workforce, it’s becoming increasingly clear that they don’t want just any job; they want a job where they can feel aligned with a company’s mission and philosophy. In short, they want an organisation that actually stands for something.
Nature v nurture
However, some business experts and entrepreneurs caution that values can become a distraction. As a small business, you’ve got to get on with getting clients and doing the work, because your values, although unspoken, are in you anyway.
If you’re an honest person, you don’t need to spend time or money defining honesty as a business value; you will recruit people like you and have a gut feel if someone doesn’t align with your values.
The time for a formal value-setting process is when you’re scaling up – or if you’ve already scaled up and realise that you need to put this in place retrospectively.
It’s important that your values are constantly communicated to the wider team, which can happen across many communication lines. Drum it in from the very start, ensure that your values are highlighted in interviews and talk them through in staff induction meetings.
From this point, reiterate the values. Praise staff when they do something that reflects the values – and share that with the team.
Peter Lawrence is a Director of Human Capital Department.
Tel. 01553 609968