Values – What are they good for?

Absolutely nothing! Well, actually, that’s entirely untrue. Business values can actually be worth their weight in gold! 

I woke up this morning thinking about business values, and it totally inspired me to sit down and write about them.

There are multiple definitions about what values are, but they can be broadly defined as “clearly stated principles about the organisation” – essentially the beliefs and actions that a business holds important. Values are going to be different for all organisations. Some may seem really formal and super assertive; others can be softer and more casual.

Clients that I have worked with over the years have often laughed or rolled their eyes when I’ve talked about values or asked them what there’s were. “Values? What do we need them for?”

Values in business are often seen as this fluffy, pointless “thing” – those “words” that managers like to throw around but which no one really gives a damn about. BUT SERIOUSLY team, let me tell you, values can be a fantastic tool for business.

Values can be a guide, a moral compass, a sense-making framework, a decision-making tool, or a way to better understand someone’s perspective. However, they must be used meaningfully and aren’t just there as a “nice to have” or because they look good.

The keyword is that they have to be meaningful, and they have to be well understood. They can’t be there as lyrical words that are thrown around the office but then swept under the carpet until it seems appropriate to use them again. They can’t be used by some team members but ignored by others. They can’t be attractive; motivational posters which are dotted around the office but are totally unknown by the team.

They need to underpin the basis of your work culture (there’s a whole ‘nother blog right there!)

There have been some really clever and well thought out values over the years. Think of Trade Me’s values of ‘Don’t be a Dick” or Google’s “You can be serious without a suit”. These sorts of values are co-created with employees, which means that everyone has buy-in and ownership to these values. They don’t just hear the values thrown around; they use them in their daily practice. Everyone at TradeMe has permission to turn around to someone who isn’t en pointe with the values and say, “Don’t be a Dick”. Team members at Google can rock up to work in casual gear.

For our team at Marbles, values of empathy, integrity and communication and objectivity are our guiding compass– but we can’t just put these out there and expect people to understand; they could mean anything or nothing. So, we break it down even further.

ObjectivityWe take a neutral position and look at all sides of the story. We don’t judge. We gather facts and look at the big picture.
EmpathyWe treat everyone the same. We try and put ourselves in their shoes to understand their feelings and perspective. We treat everyone with courtesy and respect.
IntegrityWe are honest and respectful with what we say. We act with transparency. If we say we will do something, we do it.
CommunicationWe engage punctually and productively with everyone. All calls and emails are to be promptly acknowledged, even if it’s an “I’ll come back to you” – we provide people with expectations of when they can hear from you and commit to that.

But, we also know to err is to be human – No one perfect and at times, we will stumble and fall. The key is to get back on track again and to have a culture where you return to your values quickly. Nip issues in the bud with your team members and say “that doesn’t match our values” – things don’t need to have a big deal made out of the.  This needs to be “top-down” also. There’s power in a Manager/Leader acknowledging they failed in their values. Acknowledge the stuff up and move on.

So how can you use values for your people? From a People & Culture (HR) perspective: Values give us a powerful tool to recruit and select, train and manage and end employment relationships.

You can incorporate values into every aspect of your HR practice.

  • When you interview – asking your applicant – “What professional values are important to you? And how do you use these in your day-to-day work?”. Their answers will help to align their suitability to your business.
  • When something goes wrong and there are issues with conduct or performance – asking your team member if they can review the situation against the business’ values, and asking how they would change it, or redo it.
  • When investigating a situation – ensuring that your Terms of Reference are aligned to your values. In Marbles’ case – are we ensuring objectivity, communication, empathy and integrity in all our workplace investigations and processes? If not, we need to get back on track.
  • When ending an employment relationship – are you parting ways with you team with the values you speak about?

Values aren’t a silver-bullet, it takes time to build them, and implement them.  They also don’t need to be screamed out hour by hour (Value-fatigue alert!) but there is power in the team knowing what they are and encouraging them to use them regularly. Most organisations will have values even if it’s never been formally identified and it’s “just our way of doing them”. Sometimes the mere act of writing them down, gives the business a compass, which they didn’t have before.

Has this given you food for thought? If you were to sit down and think about your values – what would they be? Are they well known in your business? Is it something that would help you?

In the words of Ghandi

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

Sending you all the warmest thoughts at these challenging times!