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An essential guide to creating your company values

If you’re involved at all in hiring within your organisation, you may’ve noticed a change in interviews (or rather interviewees) in the past five years. Prospective employees are now much more interested in their ‘cultural fit’ and the employee experience, which is reflected in the questions they’re asking…

“Can you tell me about how you encourage your people to really live and breathe your organisational values?”
“Can you share with me how the organisational values here have an impact on your own work day to day?”
“How do you feel about your purpose as a business?”

All very good questions!

As the latest generation to enter the workforce, Millennials have forced a shift in how organisations make themselves attractive as an employer. What’s seemingly important to many of them is different to what was important for previous generations. Namely, what a company stands for, its ethics, how managers manage, and, perhaps encompassing all of this, the company values.

At a time when some skills shortages are already at critical levels, and with Brexit looming, organisations are right to be concerned with their employer brand and attracting and retaining their most talented employees.

The value of values

This is something that affects companies of all sizes. Indeed we have ourselves seen the demand for, and the benefit of, creating our own company values. As a close-knit SME, we’ve long felt we had a handle on what we stand for, why we do what we do, and the impact we want to have in the world. However as the business has grown, it’s became clear we needed to articulate this and have a framework to hold ourselves accountable to.

Now, we’re lucky to have internal expertise here (in the shape of our Business Psychologists) to lead the creation of a values framework. Given their inherent knowledge of ETS coupled with their experience of similar client projects, surely this would be a piece of cake, right? Well, yes… and no. It definitely had some advantages but it also brought big challenges and lessons too. We thought it’d be helpful to share these for those of you looking at creating your own company values, or perhaps freshening up what you currently have.

Best practice tips and process

First and foremost, you may not want to undertake this job yourselves. Use in-house expertise where you have it or, failing that, seek some external expert support. Objectivity is crucial to creating something fit for purpose.

Here’s an overview of the process we followed, and what we found along the way:

1. Define what you’re doing, and shout about it!

Without support from across your organisation from the outset, this kind of initiative is going to fail. To achieve the kind of buy-in needed, you must do your research and be clear with people on what the expected impact will be of creating or refreshing your company values.

We chose to update the rest of the business regularly via email or at face to face forums to let them know progress and expected outcomes. With the initial demand to have a values framework having come from our people, it was important they felt part of the values creation process.

Top tip: Liaise with your internal marketing/comms team early on. This will help you to shape communications plans. Additionally, these conversations could (like they did for us) spark ideas about how best to ‘launch’ the framework and create a buzz around it.

2. Involve and consult your stakeholders throughout

When you’re creating a values framework from scratch, don’t fall into simply plucking ideas out of thin air or choosing your favourite values from other companies. Your own company values already exist, you can’t ‘set’ them. Your job is to uncover them, make them tangible and relate them to behaviours – the things that we all see. That’s why speaking with your people is important, as they hold the answers. Stakeholder interviews, focus groups and employee validation panels are all proven methods for getting the insights you need while also ensuring employees feel involved and consulted along the way.

Top tip: Encouraging wider participation is important, but be prepared for a degree of apathy from some quarters. Don’t let this discourage you, and instead think of ways you can bring the values to life for others once defined.

3. Unearth and define your values

The methods mentioned above should give you a wealth of information – now what to do with it? Designing your values will likely be an iterative process, as it was for us. It takes time to pull out the core themes from your data collection and distil them down into something which resonates and feels right for your organisation.

Top tip: Give yourself the time and space to work through this iterative process. Trying to rush or ‘force’ your values framework design will likely give you something less meaningful – plan ahead, start early, and set aside time to keep coming back to your design work.

4. Show off your values

Your values are not something you should keep quiet about! Your employees, your prospective employees and your clients (where relevant), should know how you operate and the commitment you’re making through your values. This kind of stuff is important to all of these groups now, as we’ve already mentioned. So don’t be shy in showing off and talking about what marks you as an organisation.

Top tip: Plan an internal launch event to reveal your new values. We had a lunchtime presentation/Q&A with prosecco and pizza (which always helps to drive attendance!). For bigger organisations, task managers/team leaders with doing something similar at a local level, so everyone has the opportunity to ask questions and understand the values.

Make it mean something

So, you’ve just spent three months creating and perfecting your values framework. Hard work’s over right? Sadly, not – this is just the beginning. You next need to focus on how you’ll embed your values framework and make it meaningful for every employee. And this is where we are right now as a business.

Top tip: Make line managers accountable for embedding values. The responsibility isn’t solely theirs but they do have a key role to play. Suggest that they incorporate values into their own objectives and then support team members with this exercise too.

Company values aren’t necessarily forever…

One common misconception is that company values are set and permanent. This shouldn’t be the case. While we’d strongly advise against chopping and changing too frequently, we must challenge ourselves on whether our values remain relevant and fit for purpose. This seems particularly apt at a time of such change and progression in the workplace.

For us there’s a strong parallel here with numerous conversations we have with clients about employee survey questions. Should you keep previous questions to have a historical comparison or ask new ones about things critical to the business right now? Keep in mind that (like an employee survey) the company values are, ultimately, a business tool. Think about what you need that tool to do for you and you’ll have your answer.

After all, in the same way that your organisation evolves with changing goals, strategies and priorities, the values you want your employees to embody may periodically need to evolve too.

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