It’s time to see the writing on the wall

A few years ago, I was meeting a prospective client to chat about a potential opportunity to work together. I asked to talk at their offices, as it’s always helpful to meet ‘on their terms’ to get a better understanding of the organisation. They were running late, so I was sitting in reception on the client floor and people watching. I also noticed they had their company values stencilled on the walls. Among them were the usual suspects: integrity; trust; mutual respect; client focused; and so on.

As I waited, I saw a suited man emerge from a large meeting room and storm up to reception, loudly berating the receptionist because he had been provided with Pepsi for his client lunch, not the Coca Cola he had asked for. The way he spoke to the receptionist was appalling, but she seemed to take it in her stride. Not much mutual respect in that interaction…

For too long, organisational values have just been something written on the walls. Every company has them and they’re all more or less the same. But then the Covid-19 global pandemic hit and everything changed. Your values became apparent in your actions – it didn’t matter what it said on the walls. I’m sure we can all think of examples of organisations that stepped up and those that should, frankly, be ashamed.

Of course, most organisations – probably yours included – fall somewhere in the middle. So if you’ve been sitting there thinking that the values your leadership team came up with at an offsite three years ago don’t quite match where you are and how you operate, now is the perfect time to revisit them.

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

It’s behaviours that matter

To be effective, this isn’t something that can be palmed off onto HR teams. Nor should it be something done in isolation. The pandemic should have made it clear which values are important to you. Now’s the time to crystallize your thinking and get it out there. And no, putting it on your walls won’t be enough.

Values are just words. It’s behaviours that matter. And your values will generally indicate the types of behaviours you expect to see.

As communicators we have a huge role to play in making sure our organisations, customers, clients, stakeholders, and the wider public know what our values are, what we stand for and how we do business. So how do you get it right?

  • Test your values with people in your organisation. Do they seem right to them? If something glaring is missing, you can adjust. If not, then you’ve validated what you have. You can also discuss what behaviours they believe support delivering those values.
  • It starts with objectives. How you deliver is as important as what you deliver. Make sure your people are rewarded for demonstrating the right behaviours, as well as what they deliver. Your values should be woven into all relevant processes throughout the employee lifecycle, from job adverts and recruitment practices to the way you manage leavers and everything in between.
  • Incorporate your values into communication. Look for ways to show that you’re already living the values in the way that you work. This helps people to understand and adopt them. Can you categorise intranet articles by value, for example, or run a recognition programme that celebrates people living the values? Can your external communication campaigns incorporate and highlight those values, too? Is your public affairs team engaging with officials on topics related to your values?
  • Have patience, be aware and work together. It will take time to truly bring new values and behaviours to life. Be patient. We also need to be conscious of any bias that may present itself. We often talk of the right ‘fit’, but this can be an excuse for hiring in our own image. Hiring based on behaviours and values rather than some perceived ‘fit’ should help with this.

Organisations that see values as nothing more than wallpaper are missing a trick. The Deloitte Global Millennium Survey 2020 highlights the importance placed on values and purpose by younger generations, with many saying they won’t support businesses whose stated and practised values conflict with their own. 

Ignore them at your peril.

A blog by Simon Monger, IABC UK&I Board Member 2020-2021

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