Core values are a powerful set of core beliefs that shape your culture, attract the right talent and customers—and let the world know the true character of your organization. We’re wired to affiliate, to find a tribe of like-minded individuals who share the same ideals and beliefs as we do. It’s this desire that makes politics and religion so powerful.
You can’t fake it.
When values embody the heart and soul of an organization, they can’t be denied. They come through loud and clear. They become a beacon for those who share the same ideals, feeling empowered and inspired because of common convictions.
If you don’t feel the values, if you haven’t found them yet, don’t fake it. This will only backfire with serious consequences, employee disengagement and cynicism. Empty ideals will breed lack of trust and make disbelievers of customers.
Company leaders must be all in and lead by example.
The biggest deterrent to a successful values-based organization is leadership’s lack of commitment and contrary behaviors. There’s no proxy for it. Employees take their cue from it.
When values are successfully articulated and implemented from the top, the benefits can be enormous. Remember, you’re not doing this for financial gain alone. You’re doing this because it’s the right thing for all stakeholders, not just an elite few.
So here are 5 strategies to help you become a true values-based organization. We know they’re successful because we’ve seen them work for our clients:
1. Discover your truth.
A corporation is essentially a collection of human beings. And as humans, we naturally have an inner code we live by, whether intentional or not, and we constantly make decisions based on that code. Identifying the code for your organization is fundamental to shaping your culture, organizational health and performance.
For many corporations, this belief system lies with the founder or the founding group. Some companies experience major disruption and cultural shift and are inspired to be better. Others have not taken the time, and now realize it’s critical for their success. Many, lately, have had a collective epiphany.
Whatever your situation, it’s imperative to discover what you truly believe and those qualities you aspire to. There are various ways to approach this process. It’s best when several techniques are utilized to get the right cross section, balance, and diversity of thought. Ultimately, it’s the leaders who must own the agreed-upon belief system with a long-term view of its relevance.
One-on-one interviews with leaders and key stakeholders, in a safe and intimate setting, are a highly effective way to start. The magic of interviews is that a majority of interviewees open up and share their thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Most people want to see their organization succeed and are honored to be a part of the process.
Thought-provoking work sessions with small groups can provide valuable input. Make these sessions engaging and fun, working on exercises that reframe the question or make it a game. Get people to think differently, avoiding any bias mindset to get at what is truly valued. Keep the participants in the moment, facilitate conversation, keep it focused and moving.
2. Define with distinction.
Most organizations don’t optimize the opportunity to state their values in terms that reflect the personality of their culture and brand.
For your values to be powerful, they must be expressed with meaning and passion. Authentic and believable, they must speak the truth and be ownable. Employees must feel them to believe and live them.
As you describe your values, your specific word choice and language are important. Write and speak about your core values using language that captures the character of your organization. Steer clear of replaceable, generic terms. Be explicit and clear. The terms and descriptions you decide on should provide direction and act as a behavioral guide for all people throughout your organization.
3. Align throughout.
Operationalize the values throughout the company, making them part of your company’s DNA.
Work with business unit leaders to determine what needs to change and what needs to be established within their group.
Evaluate and prioritize business practices, processes and programs. How do they guide you and how might they have to shift going forward? Consider various departments in your organization (i.e., administration, finance, human resources, IT, Legal, manufacturing, operations, planning and strategy and R&D) and how the values directly relate to their specific job functions. For example, it’s an imperative that HR use behavior-based interviewing and hire for cultural fit, and emphasize values in recruitment and onboarding.
4. Inspire engagement.
Communicate, communicate, communicate—authentically, meaningfully and from the heart. Let people feel it.
Every company is different. There isn’t one way—it just needs to be right for your company. Develop a strategy and plan and stick to it. Keep the communications fresh and creative. Be appropriately novel and unexpected. Your employees are bombarded with thousands of messages daily. You need to break through the noise. Engage them with a combination of touchpoints (playbooks, handbooks, posters, and/or a series of videos).
It’s important to be clear and specific in describing the behaviors, actions and attitudes associated with your values. Help people contextualize them. Have them describe what the values mean to them and how they live them.
Share stories on how one lives the values at events, speaking engagements and in podcasts and/or video presentations. Have team members—from leadership to frontline employees—talk about how the values have shaped their behaviors and what the experience was like. This enables social acceptance. Leadership must find a way to continually emphasize and inspire.
5. Live your beliefs every day.
Keeping values top of mind is a commitment and investment, but it will pay dividends.
The key to living your values is promoting ongoing awareness and continuous learning. It’s a process, but it can and should be fun, memorable and rewarding.
From company rituals to artifacts, from app-based programs to customized learning experiences dealing with real-time issues, effective neuroscience training and behavior design can help people internalize and live your values.
You’ll find that when you stay true to your values and demonstrate them in everything you do, you’ll be a better, stronger and more effective organization. Purpose-driven, values-based companies outperform their peers, have more engaged employees, dedicated customers, and a stellar reputation—all while contributing to a greater good.