By Rik Burrage, Managing Director of Grass Roots, an international provider of motivational and performance improvement services
One of the biggest challenges faced by any organisation is how to translate its corporate strategy into something that the individuals who represent it can understand and act upon on every day. This is where the concept of Values can help.
Most organisations have a set of corporate Values, which, in theory, helps to both define and shape the unique internal culture. This in turn, is a powerful driver of business performance.
Defining a clear set of corporate Values is a component part of developing high performance culture, which helps to secure sustainable competitive advantage in markets where all other things may be equal.
A Values based culture is not something that can be easily or quickly replicated by the competition, and with momentum and given time, becomes an established part of life in the organisation.
Values-related action at work should be as natural as discussing last night¹s television or tomorrow¹s weather.
Every business needs some distinctiveness and personality in the market place.
The Values vocabulary is relatively limited, and can tend towards truisms, but if its interpretation can be individual and dynamic, it can create an environment that (for instance) promotes acceptable levels of initiative and appropriate degrees of risk taking amongst employees.
Values in action
Our practical experience shows that once they have been defined there are three key stages in making Values work: Consensus, Communication and Reinforcement.
We start from the premise that an organisation has developed, or wishes to develop, a set of Values to reflect and describe its strategic ambitions.
Bringing them into the public (or semi-public) domain serves no purpose unless it makes a real and discernible difference to the organisation as a whole: simply making the Board feel better is not enough.
The process of installation must remove any ambiguity and inconsistency about what is desired: organisations that apparently have a different set of internal and external Values can hardly expect to achieve a cohesive approach.
Consistency of the message and the manner of delivery is also important.
Consensus as a position reached by the relevant group of people, rather than one that is imposed upon them.
Creating a sense of enthusiastic ownership on the part of as wide a representation of the whole employee base as possible will go a long way towards ensuring the desired outcome.
The most common and effective methodology we have found to create this consensus is via a series of workshops in which employees discuss the company Values in relation to identifiable aspects of their own working lives.
If it¹s not practical to have all staff attend these workshops then the process can still be a democratic and robust one, with attendance perhaps determined by a combination of management and peer group nomination.
Whatever the consensus reached, it should be confirmed and communicated as a reference point, using appropriate technology and media.
People who subsequently join the organisation will need to be acquainted with the Values and their practical application as quickly and as simply as possible.
One might expect a smile of recognition, as the new recruits will have been selected partly because of their skill sets, but also partly because they exude the qualities and behaviours that are consistent with the Values that the organisation is seeking to reinforce.
All staff need to be convinced and regularly reassured that their job is worth doing, and worth doing well. Values are the organisation’s way of formalising and structuring its approach, but they only make sense if their aim is understood and accepted.
There must be unity between the Values themselves and the way in which they are represented.
The organisation must place a visible premium on identifying exemplary behaviour in support of the Values, endorsing it promptly and publicly.
Otherwise the exercise may soon become just another initiative rather than the way we always do things round here. This is a central strand to developing the right behaviour into the right habits and natural actions: it means translating the exemplary behaviour into something that relates to your reality and your job role.
Any debate this initiates within the organisation is a good thing. If people can discuss and agree what needs to be done to gain recognition and approval, then half the battle is won.
The remainder can be secured by simple guidelines on practical implementation through what individuals can actually do, and by measuring and monitoring their actions.
As well as providing a basis for commendation and recognition, and keeping the Values in the public eye, such measurement generates powerful management information about performance by location, by job role, by function, even down to a manager¹s direct reports.
Peer recognition is an important element in reinforcement: many good deeds are performed out of sight of managers, but they are rarely unseen by colleagues as well.
I know when my colleague has demonstrated dedication and teamwork, because I was the beneficiary. The enlightened employer will provide a way of making this public, so that my colleague's actions can be publicly recognised and appreciation recorded.
In summary, a few tips for making Values work:
* Put time, effort, energyŠ and budget into making Values meaningful
* Ensure they are championed at the topŠ but arrived at through consensus
* Ensure they are evident in those with management responsibilities and those who are successful within the organisation
* Communicate them with vigour, but not intrusively the screen saver and mousemat may be a step too far
* Reward Values-evident activity promptly and publicly
* Facilitate peer nominations for Values related reward
* Build your Values into your recruitment process
* Put some posters up and think job done
* Impose a set of words because the board likes them
* Have a vote because it is quicker and we need to get on with some real work
* Use them as a stick to beat people with or allow them to stifle initiative
* Expect a culture change overnight
* Allow the cynics (there are always some) to undermine what you are trying to do
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