10 May 2022
Expansion & Improvement,
HR & Employer services
The idea of a business sharing core values has become widely accepted in recent years as organisations seek to align their employees around a sense of purpose and community. Many businesses will list their values publicly as a way to showcase their unique culture and attract staff and customers, but putting these values into practice goes beyond just choosing some nice-sounding words. Living your values is a challenging, occasionally messy process, but also the only way to derive real benefit from them.
Andy Jepson explains the key role that leaders play in turning values into reality in a business.
Why do values matter in a business?
Every business believes they are unique, with the ability to contribute value in a way that emerges from their people, approach and insights. The values a company chooses can be a means of setting them apart from the competition by solidifying its identity for their employees, customers and network.
More often than not, creating and documenting your values is fairly straightforward, but that’s not the same as creating a values-led business. Businesses who are able to fully align their team around a shared set of principles are able to create a more robust culture that delivers a range of benefits:
Improve team retention
More engagement and drive to succeed within the business
Higher levels of staff satisfaction
More successful hiring and growth programmes
However, in most businesses I believe the important value for people to live by is a simple one - ‘do the right thing’. This is especially important for trust based businesses such as accountants, in areas with fiduciary responsibility such as my own specialism, audit. But making that happen is harder than it sounds.
What role should leaders play in showing values?
While listing your values is easy, the real challenge is putting them into practice.
If you claim to be a value-led business but fail to show those values or, worse, show disregard for those values, they can have an actively harmful effect on your workforce. Empty value statements that no one lives up to create cynical and unhappy teams, alienate customers, and undermine managers’ credibility.
This latter point is particularly crucial - leadership in values needs to come from the top. It’s not good enough for there to be a ‘one rule for them, another for us’ mentality.
The challenge of leading on values
At a practical level, living by values can cause some conflict. If you have a big organisation, you will inevitably have people in leadership positions who hold differing opinions on what values matter. Once you’ve agreed the values, you may have disagreements, or some executives who aren’t happy with the final choice. Buy in from your leadership team is paramount to their success.
The reality is that value-adherence among leadership has to be 100% - even the smallest incidence of not living those values undoes all your good work, impacting your ability to lead and your ability to create change.
Creating a values-led environment
In practice, living your values is hard. It means prioritising some things over others, it means making difficult decisions and, crucially, it means speaking out when someone is not aligned with your shared principles.
For senior executives used to having their own way, it leaves them open to criticism from others. And for lower-level team members this can be stressful – imagine speaking out against a manager you see going against their values at a time when you are looking to progress your career within the business.
It’s down to leaders to create an environment where everyone, at every level of the business, feels not only able to express themselves, but actively encouraged. In this environment, values are the responsibility of every team member, to live and protect.
It’s in implementing these values practically within the business that they become real and start to create the potential benefits that many companies reach for when creating them, but so few achieve.
How to build values into your processes
The point of values is to drive outcomes that you can all be proud of. This requires taking them off of inspiring posters on the walls and actually building them into your processes.
One of the most powerful ways to do this is through the review and reward process.
Instead of assessing team members on pure output, consider how they embody the values you’ve chosen. This must be applied universally at all levels of the organisation, including for senior executives. This might require new ways of promoting and rewarding these values, updating your performance metrics and considerations for what constitutes achievement.
At a granular level, this should be a consistent part of work assessment, not just something that comes up once a year. This can include being the driving structure behind 1:1 meetings between line managers and teams, publicly highlighting achievement among all levels in living values and incorporating values in public discussions of business planning and assessment.
Creating a values-led business
Creating and living your corporate values can be a hugely rewarding process for your business, but it requires dedication, consistency and buy-in at all levels of your organisation.
At Haines Watts London, we aim to support businesses at all levels with the insight and advice they need to build secure, long-term success that creates value for all stakeholders. We seek to understand what makes your business special and help you get the most out of it, so you can build an organisation to be proud of.
If you’d like to know more about building and growing a values-led business, get in touch with us for a chat.