According to the Cambridge dictionary values can be defined as “the principals that help you to decide what is right, wrong, and how to act in various situations”. Organisational values relate to the core ethics or principles by which a company abide by and guide the behaviour of their employees. They are also reflected in dealings with other stakeholders such as suppliers, customers, lenders and the wider community.

Research by Collins and Porras (1996) found that values often reflect those of the company’s founders. I also think that it is fair to say and from my own experience when you start a business you are spending your time working “in” the business rather than “on” the business with regard to looking at the policies and procedures that need to put in place. Collins and Porras (1996) “believe that values cannot be created but must instead be discovered”.

From an organisational point of view, we need to be clear on what are the values we want embedded throughout the organisation. Some examples of headings you may have include, compassion, teamwork, creativity, initiative, determination, learning, structure, accuracy, safety, excellence, change, sincerity, customer focus, fun, rational and friendliness.

One tool I have used during my coaching course is to write out between 1 to 5 values that are important to me. When it is something you reflect on it can be hard to name your values and even though they are hugely important and may well be the organisational values we tend to lean towards, honesty, integrity and trust when questioned on them. I would suggest that you don’t get caught up in finding the right words so write out sentences to start. The next step is to mark them in order of importance, then look at how you are living those values in the workplace.

If you find you are not, look at specific examples where you feel you could have made more aligned choices and why you didn’t and lastly what would you do now. Remember it is really important that you are authentic in how you live out your values, otherwise there will be inconsistency of behaviours, employees and stakeholders will see through this which will result in a lack of trust. Another suggestion is to speak to a close confidante, someone you can rely on to tell you the truth, even when you don’t want to hear it – ask them their opinion on how you live your values, would they recognise them by the way you run your business.
You could also speak to other organisations in your field to see what they have done but as Elvis Presley once said “I am all shook up”, sorry wrong quote “Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave them all over everything you do”.

How can we ensure we are living our values?
Regardless of the length of time you have been in business it is never too late to articulate the organisational values. If you are at the start of your journey you need to ensure that they are reflected in every aspect of your business including the staffing cycle which starts at recruitment in the guise of your Job Descriptions, in your interview process and during on boarding and so on.

If you are at a later stage of development I would suggest that you start by having small team meetings outlining your values, asking for feedback including opinions on how they reflect the reality of the organisation at that point in time followed by an action plan to introduce the changes you want to make.

Depending on the size and diversity of your workforce be mindful of any cultural differences with regard to the values you are trying to implement. The process will take time but the return on investment will be worth all your hard work.

To shed some light on how larger multinational organisations ensure they are living their values I spoke with Joe ffrench, Talent Management Leader in Microsoft and Torunn Dahl, Head of Talent, Learning & Inclusion in Deloitte.

In Microsoft they have looked at the neuroscience behind values and how they are enshrined in all aspects of the business including their products, services, employees. They have conversations with employees on this topic including gaining insights as to their understanding of the values, examples of when Microsoft are at their best, not at their best and how do they continually raise their standards. The values conversation is part of new employee orientations with regular discussions in each business. Recognition is given to those who exhibit the values in positive ways which keeps the topic current and also provides learning to others. Any issues are addressed by reinforcing positive behaviour and it is something they are constantly evaluating.

Likewise, in Deloitte the value conversation starts on day one with an ethics model included during on boarding with tangible examples of what negative behaviour looks like and the repercussions they may have on the business. Employees regionally and globally have the opportunity to meet with senior leaders to gain insights into how they live particular values. They also have Recognition Awards to highlight employees who exhibit the organisations values. Communication about inclusion strategies is very important. By receiving the proper training employees can be confident when faced with certain situations how they should react. Again the values conversation is ongoing and very much part of the day to day running of the business.

As highlighted above dealing with any negative behavioural issues is very important. This reinforces understanding and learning for employees and provides them with confidence of your commitment to your values and consistency across the organisation. Know your line and don’t cross it as it can be hard to go back without losing the trust and support of stakeholders. Finally, ensure the conversation around values forms part of your business evaluation process, look for feedback from stakeholders and you will reap the benefits.

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