Are your values authentic or just words on a wall?
By Jo Faragher on 10 January 2020
We’ve all seen those workplaces. There are words written in foot-high paint across the meeting room walls, reminding those within that they need to be ‘courageous’, ‘put the customer first’ and ‘tenacious’, or whatever the latest buzzword might be. They aim to promote those all-important company values that signal an inclusive and effective workplace, but does anyone really believe in them?
Figures from Business in the Community’s Responsible Business Tracker have revealed that, while 86% of companies have a purpose statement, only 17% have targets around those values specific to different departments. BITC found there was a clear gap between company purpose statements and integration with clear targets across departments. CEOs overwhelmingly said they led responsible business from the top (94%), according to BITC, yet this is rarely being replicated on a day-to-day, business as usual level. Consumers are also cynical about how organisations use ‘values’ to promote their reputation. A survey by communications company Edelman last year found that 56% of global consumers felt that too many brands used societal issues as a marketing ploy to sell more of their product.
Yet values must be more than random words painted on a wall. They not only give organisations a common purpose, they can signal to potential recruits that this is a place where they will thrive and feel included. If they’re authentic, they can add to the bottom line. LinkedIn found that 58% of companies with a clearly articulated purpose experienced growth of more than 10%, compared with 42% of those that did not. Eighty-five percent of those with a clear purpose showed some sort of positive growth. For D&I professionals, values can help recruit and retain a diverse workforce and create a framework for a more inclusive culture.
So how they are brought to life at each level of the organisation is important. At the Lawn Tennis Association, for example, staff are reviewed on whether they are living and actioning the organisation’s core values, and this is linked to how they are rewarded. Values are accompanied by statements that describe behaviours associated with them and are clearly visible on the website and in job descriptions. It’s often easier for start-up companies to build values from the ground up, free from the ‘this is how we have always done things’ that can be found in more traditional organisations.
But as competition for skills increases, can companies ‘retrofit’ purpose into their business where it has historically been lacking? It may be harder, but it’s not impossible. HS2, for example, has embedded inclusive values into its supply chain by requiring companies to provide details of how they are boosting diversity before they can be included on the preferred supplier list. In the NHS, values-based recruitment is at the core of how it hires – there is a detailed framework for hiring managers to ensure that students, trainees and employees are hired on the basis that their individual values and behaviours align with the values of the health service’s constitution.
In a recent round-up of academic research on making inclusion effective, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development noted a number of practical strategies employers can use to bring values to life. These included: gauging perceptions of the organisation’s values and how they are ‘lived’ in day-to-day practices (this could be done through a question on an employee survey); involving employees at all levels in identifying values that promote an inclusive culture, rather than it be something prescribed at CEO or ‘done’ to the workforce; and embedding these values into wider practices such as talent management, appraisals and skills development. For example, do employees get feedback on behaviours related to the values? Is reward related to how they ‘live’ the values in their role?
On a departmental level, values need to relate to the specific goals of those teams, not to mention be relatable on a personal level. ‘Putting customers first’, an unsurprisingly common value, needs to be as relatable to someone in the accounts department to the person on the shop floor. That could be illustrating why paying invoices on time helps get products to customers quicker, or why getting employees’ pay and benefits right helps them to feel engaged and interact better with customers.
With so much fake news around us and the constant ‘noise’ of social media, authenticity is only going to become more important as we enter a new decade. That’s why employer values need to not only be right for the business and where it’s heading, but relevant to all individuals and their sense of belonging at work.
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