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Embedding corporate values – for life, not just the annual report

There is an ongoing question about how companies make their corporate values part of the everyday culture of the business and embed them into the company’s DNA. Somehow, amongst all the corporate communications that employees receive every day, the message about values and ethic seems to be getting lost.

BiscuitsWe’ve been there: The 10am meeting. The much anticipated ‘launch of the New Values’. Enthusiasm is rife. It’s a turning point (and there’s free biscuits). The bigwigs present the new world and vision for the future. And then…? Nothing.

The shiny new values are filed on the intranet for prequals and pitches. It’s business as usual and no one can remember one, never mind all six of the carefully chosen buzzwords for the year.

I’ll admit I’m painting a fairly negative picture. However, only half of the 2,000 employees surveyed for the latest CIPD Employee Outlook report agreed that their organisation’s values positively influence their behaviour at work. And whilst a survey from the Institute of Business Ethics showed that 60% of UK employees received training on standards of ethical conduct, less than a third (29%) were aware of the values of their organisation.

These reports confirm the disconnect between employer values and the employee – how they engage and how values are upheld.

Whilst there is no set formula, or indeed a ‘quick fix’, we’ve used our experience working with many clients, large and small, to provide a few key pointers to engaging employees with values across any business:

Defining the values

Values should reflect the way your business currently operates, as well as articulating aspirations for the future. If you want employees to buy into these values, they must be able to see where the foundations have come from. By getting to the heart of what your business stands for, employees should feel a natural link. Strip back your thinking to what the core of the business is about, where it came from and what it couldn’t survive without.

Communication

The way in which values are communicated across the organisation can be the difference between engagement and failure.  Employees must be able to see how the organisational values affect them personally, how they benefit their team and how they impact the business as a whole. Seeing how these layers interlink and by creating ownership of the values, allows people to see why they are important. Workshops are generally a good start and a way to generate discussion. They provide a platform to play out scenarios and bring the values off the page into the real world. Putting values at the heart of everyone’s agenda is an ultimate goal (and an achievable one) if values resonate with employees at all levels, from the board to the front line.

Leading by example

The most cited reason by those in the public sector for lack of engagement is that there is one rule for senior managers and one rule for everyone else (CIPD Employee Outlook report). Applicable across any sector or business, senior management need to guide the ship. For example, if respect is one of your values, the leadership team need to demonstrate this internally with employees, as well as clients. If its excellence; quality should always be held in regard as high as profit. Values should be at the heart of all decisions and decisions should reflect the values. It should be evident that the values are taken seriously and are not just a tick box exercise. Leadership actions should provide a template for employees to follow.

Recruitment

Setting expectations at the beginning of an employee journey is crucial to how employees see, experience and interact with organisational values. If you are clear at the outset about the culture and nature of your business, it is more likely you will attract and retain likeminded individuals. Aligning the personal values of your employees and company values can be the difference between an uphill struggle and a natural fit.

Consequence

For defined values to be taken seriously, employees must understand the consequences of going against them. Values should be a prominent feature in your Code of Conduct and your leadership team should be prepared to deal with noncompliance, whether through training or disciplinary. It may sound extreme, however if values are to be given the priority they deserve, they need to be regarded in the same light as policies and contracts. After all, it is your reputation at stake – values only become real if your employees represent them, and your customers experience them.

Longevity

Values are for life, not just for the company report. Ensuring values are embedded in your business strategy and vision going forward is key to building these into your company DNA. A list of organisational values on your intranet is unlikely to be read more than once, so making sure they’re brought to life throughout the year and in years ahead will help ensure they remain an integral part of everything you do.

So, in summary: make sure your values are at the heart of every process, procedure and meeting (but whatever you do, don’t ditch the biscuits).

Find out more about how we helped BP embed their corporate values and behaviours across the globe.

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