I have been in discussions with a number of organisations lately around a review of their values.  Understandably, people are sceptical as to their contribution to a business given that they can be used as a stick to drive behaviour rather than as a carrot to drive high performance. Some key questions that have been raised around values include:

  • Why are values important?
  • What is the optimum number of values?
  • How should values drive the behaviours in an organisation?
  • What is the link between values and an organisations preferred culture?
  • How do you take them off the wall and make them a living document?

To work through these questions, it is important to go back to first principles.  Why are they important?  Put simply, they are the guiding principles for a business.  They guide behaviours, practices and the culture you aspire to.  Without this point of reference, what does your business stand for?  They are your DNA.

In terms of number of values, less is more.  When I see more than five or six values, I get nervous.  The message around what is important to your organisation gets diluted to staff.  Are we trying to be everything to everyone rather than focussing on what truly matters?

Your values should drive your behaviours in a proactive way. Values that are lived and breathed have a blend of values that are non negotiable and aspirational.  What is core and critical to everything we stand for and what values drive us to outstanding performance?  If your values can cover both, you have a set of values that stand a chance of engaging your staff.

The key question around linking your values to a preferred culture is an important one.  Values are the principles that drive your preferred culture.  They are the reference points in ensuring your journey towards your desired culture is the right one.  Map your values to your desired culture and ensure staff understand the reasons for the link.

The final question around taking them off the wall and making them real comes down to one key group.  Your leadership team has to role model and live and breathe your values.  Staff observe leaders actions not their words.  They mirror what leader’s value rather than a document on a wall.  Make your leaders accountable around their behaviours.  Ask the tough questions when doing their reviews as to whether they are living the values, promoting and communicating why they are important to your staff.  Ensure bonuses, pay increases and promotions have a large element linked to values and behaviour metrics.

Address these key questions when reviewing your values and your staff will engage.  Further, they will drive the high performance you desire not through fear but a genuine understanding of what values, behaviours and principles make your business unique.  By engaging your staff with the value review process they will be lived and breathed instead of being forgotten on the wall!