If you don’t know what defines your company, you risk losing what makes it different as the business grows.
“Strong company values are a huge performance management consideration that impacts every facet and process of an organisation, including decision-making, goal setting and recruitment,” explains Stuart Hearn, HR director and chief executive of purpose-built performance management software system, Clear Review.
But for values to help shape vision and give direction, Mr Hearn believes leaders need to “live” the company values day-to-day, so that they become ingrained in the culture. “Effective leaders ensure that their co-workers are focused on the organisation’s values, while promoting a shared social identity,” he says.
What do you actually believe in?
Melissa Talago, founder of Campfire Communications, believes that a small business owner’s own personal values usually become the values of the company, adding that it’s particularly true for sole traders and micro business owners. “If you try to create business values that aren’t really the same as your personal values, they don’t come across as authentic,” she says.
Ms Talago advises clarifying your own personal values before articulating those of the business, and she recommends asking the following questions for clarity: “What do you believe? What’s important to you? How are you demonstrating your beliefs to the world and your customers? How is the world made better for your being here? And how do your values and actions make your customers feel?”
The sooner that you tackle these questions, the better, says Julian Hall, founder of Ultra Education, which runs entrepreneurship classes
for young people. “Company values can be a work in progress that evolve as the company grows, but if you wait until the business is too big to define values, it becomes a really complicated thing to do.”
Nonetheless, your company values “probably already exist” within your team, he says. “You don’t have to pull them out of thin air; they’re already there. It’s about how you draw them out of the people within your operation.”
How can you measure values?
Scheduled discussions, Post-it note sessions and surveys can help tease out what staff think the values of the company are. But how do you distinguish values (which, by definition, should be measurable) from aspirations, which may be more general?
Mr Hall offers this distinction: “Take a characteristic about your company that’s important to its long-term success. If it’s sustainable and you can apply it to every area of the company – and it will help the company make huge decisions – then it’s probably a value.”
To avoid values ending up as little more than a plaque in the company lobby, make them actionable too. “That means using them in recruitment, and to benchmark your objectives against, but also referring to them when new challenges or opportunities arise to see how those align with your values,” says Mr Hall.
Defining and sharing a company culture is most effective when it’s embedded from the earliest days, says Susy Roberts, founder of people development consultancy, Hunter Roberts, which helps businesses define and translate brand values into company culture and customer experience. “From the start, when you have only a few employees, work collaboratively to define the culture that you want to maintain and the values that will underpin this,” she says.
As you grow, building these values into the recruitment and induction processes will help you hire well. “Ask values-based questions to understand potential employees’ values and motivators, and whether they’re a cultural fit with your business,” recommends Ms Roberts.
“Your recruitment decisions – the kind of people whom you’re bringing into your growing company – will communicate more to existing employees about your true values and future business direction than anything you ever say.”
A strong set of company values will also act as a tool to attract quality candidates, adds Mr Hearn. “As millennials begin to dominate the workforce, it’s becoming increasingly clear that they don’t want just any job; they want a job where they can feel aligned with a company’s mission and philosophy. In short, they want an organisation that actually stands for something.”
Nature v nurture
However, business expert and entrepreneur, Carl Reader, cautions that values can become a distraction. “As a small business, you’ve got to
get on with getting clients and doing the work, because your values, although unspoken, are in you anyway,” he says.
“If you’re an honest person, you don’t need to spend time or money defining honesty as a business value; you will recruit people like you and have a gut feel if someone doesn’t align with your values.”
The time for a formal value-setting process, believes Mr Reader, is when you’re scaling up or if you’ve scaled up and realise that you need to put this in place retrospectively.
Tom Shurville, founder of search marketing agency Distinctly, says that it’s tempting to believe that values and company culture will simply evolve naturally, but he suggests a more prescriptive approach.
“It’s important that your values are constantly communicated to the wider team, which can happen across many communication lines. Drum it in from the very start, ensure that your values are highlighted in interviews and talk them through in staff induction meetings.
“From this point, reiterate the values. Praise staff when they do something that reflects the values – and share that with the team.”
Read the article on The Telegraph website here.