Bringing  your values to life

In founder-led businesses, values invariably are created by the founders as they evolve their business idea into a fully fledged company.  It’s part of the DNA of the early team, in the way they think and behave, in the decisions they make and in the people they recruit.  As the business grows, everyone looks to the founder for guidance and steer on how to live those values.  But as a business grows, changes occur and some of the early value “ambassadors” depart, how do you make your business values stick?

Values are exhibited through behaviours

If the values represent the DNA of HOW you do business, the behaviours are how we need to act to deliver the values.  Behaviours give us a framework for what we should focus on, what is acceptable and what is not.  Together with a decent job description, objectives that link to the business goals and good line management, behaviours are critical to the cultural success of a business.

Behaviours are different to competencies

When you look at the diverse skill set in your business, you’ll wonder how you can have a common set of values that apply to engineering, sales, finance – they’re all different so different!  You’re probably mixing up competencies and behaviours.  A competency is the ability to do a task well.  For example, I’m very good at eating.  It’s a task I perform well.  Values relate to the WAY in which we behave, not the tasks themselves.  For example, I demonstrate innovative behaviour (a value) in the way I search for great priced flight for my weekend trips (a competency.)

Who does it well?

A few examples that you’re probably all familiar with:

ZapposTony Sheih created his business around his values.  Everyone in the organisation is clear on what they are about and what is expected of them to live up to the values.

Netflix – One of the most viewed Slideshare presentations to date, the Netflix Culture slides set the benchmark, outlining the behaviours and then challenging managers to never accept second best.

VirginRichard Branson gave us the simple model that happy, engaged staff deliver great service.  Customers who get great service spend more and become loyal advocates.  This delivers shareholder return.  Across the group, although each business creates their own values, the common Virgin themes mark out Virgin businesses as exceptional.

Four common pattern to observe:

  • Keep them simple, don’t be overly wordy
  • Create content to explain what they mean and what they don’t mean
  • Use stories to bring the values to life: “this is how we demonstrated innovation”
  • Seek out ambassadors who really “get” your values and live them

Embedding the values

So is it worth employing someone to champion the values within your business? This really depends on the size of your business and the amount you need to nurture your values & behaviours.  If you’re looking to take HR beyond the confines of payroll and recruiting, this would be a great additional requirement to add to their job spec!

For me, the most important part of embedding the values is amplification.  The founders and leaders start, living the values, behave in a way to support it, then they should coach the line manager layer. Leveraging the line managers will have the most effect, as they influence the largest number of people day in, day out.  For customer facing teams, it’s the quickest way to let your customers feel your values, because the front line has most interaction with customers.  I believe in lots of support for the line managers.  Netflix succinctly reminds us that if we recruit well, we won’t have to assume our people are stupid.  They will understand that some behaviours are non-negotiable – honesty, team work, respect.  So you don’t need to create a rule book.

Finally, constantly nurture and celebrate your values.  Help to embed the values by gathering and sharing stories from the team.  At the company all-hands meeting at Workshare, it was a real joy to reward those nominated by colleagues for living the values – helping the values become second nature for everyone in the business.  So is it time for you to pause and reflect on the health of your values?


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