Exiting Your Business
Embedding a Values-Led Culture
How do you go from values being just words on a wall to having a meaningful impact on the business and on employees’ behaviour? Here is how we set about achieving it.
In 2014, I resumed the role of Managing Director having spent some time in the charity sector and it was immediately evident that our values had little or no meaning to anyone and had no effect on the behaviour of our employees. They were, in fact just words on a wall – better not to have them at all. I knew we had to reboot the whole process and, in the words of Yoda in Star Wars, it was a case of ‘Do or do not, there is no try.’ In other words, a half-hearted attempt was pointless.
Deciding on the values
I engaged the help of Lindsay McKenna, an expert on high performing teams, and with the Leadership Team, she went through the process of examining what was important to us, then what was non-negotiable. We came up with a long list, but I was determined to get it down to 3 or 4, as too many values dilutes the impact and can be hard to remember.
A similar exercise was carried out with managers by another independent facilitator – Roger Davies with no involvement from myself or other Directors. The result was a list of around 10 values, which had to be reduced to our 4 non-negotiables at a third meeting. After a great deal of discussion, the 4 that emerged were:
Making the meaningfulI decided to run 6 sessions comprising 10 people from different parts of the organisation to mix things up and prevent group-think. I asked them quite simply: When you think of the words Integrity, Care, Empowered and Unity, what ideas or words come into your mind? Their answers amazed me in terms of their variety and quantity – over 100 for each value, which were noted down verbatim and displayed. Here’s a sample: ‘Being true to yourself’, ‘Having principles and sticking to them’, ‘Putting yourself in others’ shoes’, ‘Sharing the burden’, ‘Circle of trust’, ‘Shared vision’, ‘Making everyone feel important’, ‘Able to right the wrongs’.
All those descriptions made the values more meaningful, but we needed to clarify what behaviours we expected from our people and they needed to be crystal clear. We brought in Kate Mercer to run a session with Directors, Managers and the Values Team to work through a set of 3 behaviours for each value. It was mind-bending stuff, but the result was something we are proud of and still stand 5 years on.
I knew that leading by example was fundamental to making the values stick, so in every meeting room the behaviours were (and still are) on display to remind us of the standards we expect from ourselves as the Leadership Team and from everyone in the business. I can honestly say that for every important decision (and many non-essential ones) we carried out a check against the behaviours, a process which ironically made decisions more straightforward. During one-to-one meetings, all managers are encouraged to recognise when their people are ‘doing good stuff’ and praise them, and to challenge them using the behaviours when they’re not. An additional benefit is that they provide an effective framework to tackle those difficult conversations when people are not performing due to blind spots or blocks in their behaviour.
We give and receive honest and constructive feedback.
We hold ourselves accountable for our words and actions.
We don’t blame, we learn and grow.
We trust each other to make well-informed, responsible decisions.
We let people know we believe in them and encourage them to grow in knowledge and skills.
We continuously challenge the norm to innovate, improve and implement change.
We support each other to achieve our shared goals and celebrate our successes.
We recognise and value the strengths each person brings to the team.
We are open and communicate clearly and regularly with everyone.
RecognitionI wanted to find a way to recognise and reward people who displayed those behaviours to their colleagues, so I developed the ‘Values Awards’, where people nominated their colleagues when they spotted them doing good stuff. I had the pleasant task of going through the nominations – something that always made my day. It’s so easy to catch people under-performing, but I wanted to shift the emphasis, not just in an ‘employee of the month’ sort of way, but on a day-to-day basis involving everyone in the business. The winners, who became the ‘Values Team’ were announced at our Christmas Party, and I could see how much it meant to them. Now that we are employee-owned, it is our representative body, we call the ‘Voice Group’ who provide honest feedback to the Leadership Team and the Board of Trustees about how the values are being lived and make recommendations on how to further embed them.
Impact of Values-Led Culture
Measuring the impact of a values-led culture is partly achieved through external recognition; we were delighted at winning the West Oxfordshire Employer of the Year Award in 2016, and being a finalist in 2020; (the award ceremony was postponed due to Covid19). Visitors, consultants and new-joiners consistently describe our organisation as inclusive, collaborative with a positive, ‘can-do’ atmosphere.
Internal measurements take the form of regular surveys, which are acted upon, as well the Values Team providing direct feedback to leaders and managers; because, above all, it’s the people in the business who can change it for the better, as long as they are listened to!