Company values are crucial to a business. They act as a compass, supporting growth, recruitment, office culture, and much more. Without clearly defined, authentic values in place, your business will battle to build a productive workplace that attracts and retains the right people. Core values give an organisation character and culture, and help it expand into other markets as a unified entity. These core values are not defined solely by boardroom executives, but need to be woven into the very fibre of the business, from top to bottom.
But this is easier said than done. To establish a healthy company culture and drive action to make tangible improvements to company performance, you have to do more than simply post a nicely written and neatly designed mission statement on your website. As international managing director of a global business, I have been responsible for building and maintaining culture as the company grows. Here are five lessons I’ve learnt along the way.
Be clear and realistic
It’s easy to generalise company values with words such as ‘reliability’ and ‘trustworthiness’, and use hackneyed corporate jargon like ‘best practice’ and ‘connectedness’. However, long-winded sentences that try to include everything end up saying nothing. All too often these empty value statements create suspicion and cynicism, undermining leadership and alienating both employees and customers.
You need to be realistic and define values that can be lived up to, present tangible benefits when met, and negative consequences when not. That’s the only way your employees will truly buy into them and work towards them. A good example would be something like “we are committed to reducing our impact on the environment” – a statement that as a real sense of purpose and an overarching goal.
Don’t just say it, do it
Well-defined values are meaningless unless you can track them against day-to-day performance. You can’t expect your employees to take them seriously if you don’t. Make sure your values are always kept top of mind and promoted through workplace initiatives that involve everyone.
At Bullhorn, for example, we’ve created a ‘rally cry’ booklet that we give to every new team member when they join. It contains our core values and company purpose, as well as a score card that reflects how effectively that employee is adopting and applying these values in their everyday working lives.
Hire based on values, not just experience
It’s important to remember that a company itself doesn’t ‘create’ values, its people do. When hiring new recruits, make sure that you consider their passion and potential to positively the business in a variety of ways – don’t just hire for experience. Skills can be taught, but a person’s values are built-in and define who they are, and who they are will define your company’s direction and shape crucial business decisions.
Your employees’ values need to mesh with your company’s values. An ill-fitting team member has the potential to dilute shared culture and damage team morale.
Combine work with play
All work and no play is bad for employee wellbeing. Your company values need to encourage healthy working relationships and inspire employees to interact with their wider surroundings. Your employees are not just looking for the best company to work for. They want to join a forward-thinking organisation that offers the best support for them to prosper as individuals in both their working and personal lives.
Values that support work-life balance and make room for priorities like family, personal health and wellbeing are vital. CSR and team volunteering initiatives get employees to mingle outside of the office in a fun and meaningful way. All of this builds rapport, a sense of belonging, and purpose.
While a shared vision is undoubtedly important, core values must never discriminate against or discourage diverse perspectives. In fact, the opposite is crucial: companies need to create a tolerant workplace that encourages debate and conversation. When important issues like gender equality, politics and current affairs, and discrimination are given a structured forum for discussion, it can help remove barriers and foster greater cooperation and communication.
Bullhorn’s HERd initiative, for example, offers a judgement free zone for female colleagues and friends to meet and share ideas about how to create a more inclusive workplace. It enables people to share their different views and stories, which stimulates innovative thinking for a better workplace.
It’s impossible to be truly innovative if you can’t allow for a difference in opinion. Therefore, a certain amount of flexibility is critical: just like other key elements of a business, your company values should be open to debate and adaptation over time. Defining and promoting your company’s best possible values is not difficult, as long as you put your people first.
Peter Linas is the international managing director at Bullhorn.
See also: Deconstructing workplace happiness – foundations for sustained employee satisfaction