‘What is our purpose?’ is a fundamental question for companies, the answer to which will often result in a succinct and powerful mission statement. ‘What are we trying to achieve?’ similarly can unlock a vision for the future, a look over the horizon at what will be the outcome of the work.
But just as an important a question for companies is ‘who are we and what matters to us?’ This is often a much more difficult query to respond to as it isn’t easy to distil into words the essence of a company. Or, in other words, the organisational values.
The values are so much more than words stuck on a wall or written on a website. They are the living, beating heart of an organisation. They are what gives a company its personality as they provide the framework for the behaviours expected from the people within.
And there are many ways in which companies can bring their values to life and make them intrinsic to how a business is run.
They are invaluable at recruitment. They convey to potential new employees what they can expect from a company, and they allow candidates to truly consider if their own values align with those of an organisation. This can be demonstrated practically by interview and assessment around the values. This process helps both parties truly understand if they are right for each other, which is vital for any successful relationship.
The values also have an important role to play in management – after all, conversations around behaviours are far more productive when built upon the safe foundations of the values. ‘I felt that you could have shown the Empathy value more in that discussion,’ is a more positive angle for a discussion than ‘You were rude.’ By using the values to underpin difficult management conversations, the sense of it being ‘personal’ is diminished – which means the employee will hear what is being said in a more receptive way.
They can also be used to recognise and reward behaviours which align with the organisational values. In drawing out positive value-based behaviours, companies are also able to highlight examples of what is expected, which only serves to continue to reinforce the whole sense of ‘this is who we are.’
They can also provide a reference for decision-making and discussion, not least when thinking gets stuck. ‘Does what we’re trying to do fit with our values?’ and if the answer is ‘no’ then proceeding is often not advisable.
And they provide a point of difference. This is particularly important in sectors where there may be similar companies operating. The values become the Unique Selling Point, what differentiates an organisation – and what might give it its competitive edge over its rivals.
When I set up The Engaging People Company, I spent a great deal of time thinking about what values I wanted for the organisation. Because, through the values, I would be projecting to the world ‘who’ this company is, and setting my stall up for how I will work. After much consideration, I settled upon the values of ‘be authentic, be creative, have fun and be kind.’ Through these four fundamentals, I am communicating that this is who The Engaging People Company is, this is how it will operate, this is what you can expect – and this is what you can hold me to account on.
By making values part of the everyday dialogue within an organisation, as well as embedding them within the engagement practices around recruitment, retention, management and recognition, companies can create a sense of belonging. The values become owned by the people, something which connects them and creates a sense of being one big team. And ultimately, the values create a sense of being valued.