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Making Values Meaningful

We all have values: principles or standards that determine what is important to us and what we stand for. We may not consciously think about them, but research suggests that they are hard-wired into us by the age of 24.

In our latest blog, Director Stuart Pearce discusses how businesses need to be clear about the values they want to project and to ensure their people are aligned with them.

An obvious starting point is ensuring a business employs people with similar values. Research shows that we struggle when asked to behave in ways that aren’t aligned with our values and the standards that we hold ourselves to. Whilst we might go along with it, we won’t feel comfortable, will probably under-perform and eventually find that we can’t carry on.

This means wasted recruitment resource and management time. There are now ways of measuring corporate and individual values to assist with this process but many UK businesses continue to pay lip service to values.

The Trouble with Corporate Values

Increasingly, businesses do think about their values and are proud to display them on their corporate websites or on that plaque in reception. They are an important marketing tool in the fight to differentiate and to engage customers and communities in your brand and what you stand for.

The problem is that businesses don’t fully understand what they are doing by making such proclamations, or how to manage the expectations they create.

I am certainly not suggesting that organisations shouldn’t define and publish their values. They must appreciate that the moment they do so, they raise expectations among their customers, employees and other stakeholders. They will expect the organisation to be true to these values at all times.

If the values are not consistently adopted by the organisation, and its leaders in particular, the organisation’s integrity, the so-called ‘say-do gap’ between what is promised and how it behaves, is immediately questioned.

In our experience, here is where the problem lies.  Businesses will happily spend the time on strategy sessions to develop a new set of values and money on designing materials to promote them, but rarely follow through and translate them into meaningful, and measurable, outputs.

Making it Meaningful

To make values meaningful, they have to be translated, via the organisations’ beliefs, into a set of tangible, measurable outputs – in other words behaviours.

Behaviours are the ways in which we conduct ourselves, i.e. our actions. The actions we take can be defined, evidenced and measured.

The diagram below illustrates the different dynamics at play that culminates in an individual’s actions:

Our values (the principles or standards that determine what is important to us) and beliefs (an acceptance that something is true) are the foundations on which our behaviours are based.

If there are no other factors at play these will directly determine our behaviours. Unlike values, which tend to be fixed, beliefs can change over time based on experience.

There are however other factors at play which influence our behaviours, such as:

  • External influences – the world in which we live and the behaviours of those around us.
  • Internal influences – how we are feeling, physically and mentally, at a particular moment.
  • Environment – the place in which we find ourselves living or working.
  • Attitude – the positive or negative filter we use to process all the other influences.

To illustrate how these different drivers and influencers play out, here’s a personal example:

  • Values – One of my core values is being respectful.
  • Beliefs –I grew up believing that it was best to respect other people’s views and thoughts, ‘live and let live’, even if that was difficult at times. With experience, I have learnt that listening is one of the best skills, especially when it comes to understanding your customers, and I have adopted a pragmatic problem solving approach.
  • External influences – When things are going well, I tend to feel comfortable being as authoritative as I can. When I am with people who are having a hard time, or businesses in trouble, I tend to be more considered with my thoughts.
  • Internal influences – If I am feeling great, I can be quite open and direct, if I’m not feeling that confident I can avoid saying what I really think, or at least put it off.
  • Environment – If I am in a crowded train after a long and hard day, I might get less considerate with those around me
  • Attitude – Generally, I’m a glass-half full person so if none of the other influences are extreme, I will be able to be true to my values, knowing that is the best thing to do.
  • Behaviour – My intent will always be to be respectful, although I don’t believe anyone can claim to be consistent in that regard!

So, whilst there are a lot of influences at play, there are some core drivers of behaviour that we can identify and address.

Values within the Organisation

With organisational values, these are the beliefs that underpin them and the behaviours that they suggest. Here is a selection of organisational values and beliefs and their measurable behaviours:

RespectTreating everyone as we would like to be treatedConsiderate
IntegrityTaking responsibility for our actionsResponsible
TeamworkWorking together to achieve moreCollaborative
ExcellenceChallenging ourselves to deliver the best outcomes we canChallenging

Once defined, behaviours can be assessed in individuals and teams, using evidence-based assessment techniques. They can be built into people management systems and processes, such as:

  • Recruitment, selection and induction
  • Performance management
  • Training and development
  • Talent management and succession planning
  • Reward and recognition

By defining and communicating behaviours, it also gives employees a reason to have conversations about behaviours, good and bad. They can be benchmarked in order to assess their own and others’ behaviours.

In summary, values are an important tool to use in creating a consistent approach to the way in which a business operates. However, it is the management and measurement of the behaviours they suggest that makes them meaningful.

Journey4 has many years experience in developing values, beliefs and behaviour frameworks. These enable organisations to translate their principles into actionable and measurable outputs to drive cultural change.

To find out more about our approach, send an enquiry, call 01823 451 199 or email