Bringing values to life is essential for great teams

We all know the world is changing.  A value statement can no longer simply be pinned on a wall or shoved in a drawer. Nor listed as a page of single adjectives in a mission document or business plan. A practice many organisations habitually adopt. Ethics and values are the new checklists.  They are the choice point for talented employees, discerning customers and clued-up partners and collaborators. Bringing values to life is a challenge for new leadership.

Values and ethics

The Institute of Business Ethics report on  Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics showed that 59% of respondents thought businesses were fairly or very ethical. 38% considered businesses not very or not at all ethical. While only 4% did not have an opinion. Interestingly the percentage of people who did not have an opinion has dropped sharply from the previous years’ report when 15% reported no opinion.  The news regularly reports on ethics and values.  This renewed focus in the news may have influenced opinion.

Reputation and ethics

Research published in MIT Sloan Management review critically challenges various survey reports. One of which states that reputation in terms of corporate social responsibility and ethics are important for up to 96% of students. In this study, it was found that less than 20% of students would prioritise the company reputation as reasons to accept a job offer. Notwithstanding the contradictory findings, it was still found that “all other things being equal”, reputation and ethics would be the factor which swayed them to make their choice.

Ethical business is of course judged mainly on the policies and behaviours at the interface of society. If a business is congruent then, outward ethics and values have to begin within. Anything less will result in a business paying lip service to external pressure. Rather than being the ethics and values in action internally.

Focus on values

Working with CEO’s and business leaders I’ve seen a mixed approach to bringing values to life in their business. Some CEO’s are passionate about values.  Their businesses reflect their values.   When passion drives, then bringing values to life are just a natural by-product of their own commitment and enthusiasm. For others, it is more difficult. Although they don’t lack the commitment, sometimes the business has just not focused on values so much.

You can improve your focus on values.  What follows are some practical steps to bring values to life in your organisation.

1. Prioritise

Approach the development of your values statement with as much of a priority as that of your key performance indicators or your business outcomes. Consult with your employees, stakeholders, partners and customers about what is important to them. At this stage listen and gather as much feedback as you can.

2. Create statements

Turn the ideas, thoughts and concepts about your business values into statements.  Describe important values using statements. Statements will describe values in action.  Take honesty as an example. This might convert to statements such as: “We will publish full statements of accounts annually”, or “We will keep our employees, stakeholders and customers informed about decisions which affect them and consult where possible”.

3. Embed into infrastructure

Once you have a list of behaviours which illustrate your values in action, incorporate them into your business processes, policies and communications. Your employee practices such as recruitment and performance reviews should include appropriate elements and your customer promises and service levels should reflect them.

4. Rate progress

The final step is to regularly get feedback.   Survey employees, customers, stakeholders and other interested people. Whether values are being demonstrated can be evaluated from the responses to the survey.   Use a rating system against each value statement.  Ask respondents to score.  If the value ratings are low, ask respondents for expanded answers.  You will get essential information about your business using this method.

Bringing values to life does not have to be hard, and if approached with demonstrable commitment can help to engage the hearts and minds of everyone associated with your business.

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