August 6th, 2019
Companies all around the world have values. Many of them will include words like ‘Trust’, ‘Integrity’ or ‘Innovation’. But how many truly live them?
For values to be meaningful they need to be more than words on a wall. They need to reflect who we are, be embedded into everything we do and drive every decision we make.
Over the past year, I’ve done some work to understand my own values and worked with a client to help them understand and embed theirs. On both occasions I worked alongside values specialist Jackie Le Fèvre. Through Jackie, I’ve learnt that we all have values and they’re emotional and energy rich ideas that drive our choices and behaviours. So, it’s integral that businesses not only understand what their values are but consciously embed them into everything they do.
But how do they do that?
Firstly, do research into what your organisation’s values are, because they will already exist. The values will be what your organisation demonstrates when it’s at its best (and dishonours at its worst). So, picking words that sort of sound right, just won’t cut it. Values go much deeper than that and whichever ones you select need to resonate with employees.
Some companies run focus groups or workshops with their employees to understand what it feels like to work in that organisation and to identify trends and themes that emerge.
Some take a more scientific approach. For example, Jackie applies the Minessence Values Framework. With a recent client of mine, Jackie was able to use the framework to do a linguistic analysis of stories shared by employees about when that company was at its best, providing an accurate reflection of the values present in employees’ lived experiences. (You can read more about this approach on Jackie’s website).
Whichever route you choose, ensure that employees are involved in the creation or review of values. They need to feel a sense of ownership rather than feel the values have been forced up on them with no consultation.
When it comes to embedding your values, again involve your employees and enable them to work as teams to make the values applicable to their day-to-day role and understand what it means on a practical level. This may involve empowering line managers to lead on this with support and guidance.
And at a higher level, the organisation needs to identify where it’s already living the values (and celebrate that through storytelling) and where there are areas for improvement. For example, at one end of the spectrum it could mean rewriting your policies in a different tone of voice or at the other end it could mean walking away from a client that doesn’t align with what you stand for.
A few months ago, I put a call out on Twitter for people to share their stories of how they’ve embedded values into their organisations. The response was incredible, and I plan on sharing more as the year goes on, but for now here is one from Posture People…
What is Posture People?
Posture People is an office furniture company with a difference. Run by a small team of nine based in Brighton and led by Director Jo Blood, it not only supplies office furniture with a focus on ergonomics, but also works with clients to ensure their physical work spaces reflect their values and ethos.
Jo says, “One of our clients had creativity as a value but you can’t expect employees to produce creative marketing campaigns if they’re sat in a boring environment. We understand this and work with clients to ensure their office space reflects the culture they’re cultivating.”
Creating and embedding their values
A year ago, Jo realised that their own values were simply words on a poster so decided to delve in a bit deeper to see if they had the right values and how they could consciously live them. She had a conversation with every employee to understand where they thought the values were being lived, where they weren’t doing enough and if their values completely encompassed their culture or if they had some gaps.
She found that their existing values of ‘Wellbeing’, ‘Education’ and ‘Relationships’ were being lived, however they needed a couple more to reflect their culture fully and added ‘Entrepreneurial Spirit’ and ‘Fun’.
Below are some of the ways they have chosen to live these values. Over to Jo…
Our whole company ethos is about wellbeing. We help our clients support their wellbeing agendas through supplying ergonomic office furniture. But it’s also important that we look after our own wellbeing to ensure we are at our best and that we practise what we preach.
That’s why I introduced a subsidised on-site physio, plus homeworkers are given an equivalent budget to use a physio where they live. We also treat people like grown ups here and trust them to get on with their jobs in a way that works for them. We believe this supports mental wellbeing.
We want to educate people about ergonomics to the point that we don’t need to advocate good posture anymore.
We provide free advice about ergonomics, (Helen – I can attest to this, after our call Jo sent me worksheets about how to get the right posture when sitting at a desk), and we go into organisations and run sessions with employees to help them understand the importance of good posture and how to obtain it.
We want to work with clients that support our values as well as ensuring that the relationships within Posture People are based on values too. In practice this means:
- Walking away from clients that don’t allow us to live our values.
- Having grown up conversations with employees – we have a very flat structure where everyone can be involved in decision making. It doesn’t suit everyone and that’s OK. If it doesn’t, we have adult discussions about how we can help that person move on with their career.
- We support people’s career development, even if that isn’t with us. For example, one of our employees recently took a job with one of our suppliers. She told us before the interview, and we helped her prepare for it.
We want everyone that works at Posture People to think of it as their own company and to be as involved as they want to be. Everyone is responsible for running their own part of the business.
Employees are also encouraged and supported to have their own entrepreneurial interests outside of Posture People. And when recruiting new employees, the values form part of every question. One of the pre-questions we send out is: If you were running your own business, what would it be?
We believe life is too short to do a job you don’t enjoy. Once a month after the team meeting, we play a board game because it’s fun and helps us to connect as a team. We also have a fun budget and our next fun activity will be going to an escape room.
How do they measure success?
Jo was very honest and said they don’t have formal measures of success due to their size and their culture of speaking openly so feel they have a good gauge on how well the values are being lived. They also find that employees stay with them on average for 4-5 years and Jo is often involved in helping people look for their next career move.
I think this is a fantastic example of how to embed your values. And while you could argue that it is easier on a smaller scale, it does give insight into the types of things an organisation might want to consider.
The other thing to bear in mind is that internal communication plays a significant part in values alongside many other parts of a business. Much of this blog discusses elements that aren’t solely within the remit of internal communication. However, to communicate values effectively it’s essential we understand what values are, what they mean and the impact they can have on a business.
In future blogs, I will share case studies from bigger organisations that focus more specifically on how internal communication supported values embedding. If you have any examples you’d like to be featured, please do get in touch.