Many organisations these days have a set of corporate values as part of their employer branding. Relating to anything from ethics to relationships to actions, corporate or company values aim to articulate those things that an organisation genuinely believes in. They provide a framework for how people treat both internal and external contacts, do their work, make decisions, and feel about their position. Used effectively, they are like a cultural glue to ‘connect’ the team, customers and other stakeholders, set the company apart from its competitors, and support a social community based on shared goals.
However, if your set of values is purely ornamental, you may as well have a set of china gathering dust in a cupboard for all the value you’ll get out of them! The most committed employees I see are from organisations where the values are really ‘lived’ – so here’s how to align your values with your HR practices and use them to recruit and retain the right people!
Recruit people with compatible personal values
Attract like-minded people by being upfront about your values from the start – include them in your recruitment material, in adverts, on application forms etc. This way people can see what you believe in and whether these values are aligned with their own.
At the interview stage, explore this further by having structured questions around each value. Don’t just ask people if they agree with them – no interviewee in their right mind would answer ‘no’ to that! Instead, ask what the values mean to them and how they demonstrate them.
For example, if your values were Respect, Innovation and Accountability, use questions such as:
- "How do you show you respect people in your day to day life?"
- "Give me an example of when you were particularly innovative in your approach"
- "Tell me about what accountability means to you" etc.
As a result, you are much more likely to recruit people who will be far more motivated and committed to the success of the organisation and its goals.
Communicate the values day to day
It can be easy for people to forget what your company values are if they are never mentioned! Don’t just rely on posters to keep them in the forefront of people’s mind, as eventually the impact will diminish. I once asked an employee what their company values were, which was met with much head-scratching and brow-furrowing – despite the fact that they were painted in large letters on the wall right behind where they were sitting…
Instead, communicate them actively through talking about them in meetings, training events, one-to-ones etc. Have a ‘Value of the Month’ to focus on, or as an agenda item at meetings. Discuss what the values mean in practice – what they look like, sound like, feel like! Get people to share examples (good or bad!) of when they or other people have demonstrated them. Relate them to specific activities, such as customer service, teamworking etc.
You can link this even more explicitly to leadership and management – what do managers need to do in order to lead, manage and support people in line with the values?
Use values to manage performance
An important way to keep the values alive and to ensure they are being exhibited is to align your performance management processes with them. When reviewing and appraising staff, assess performance against the values – to what extent have people demonstrated, shared and improved them? Have performance standards and measures that clearly define what is expected and what ‘good’ looks like in each area. If you’ve nailed the bit about communicating what they mean in practice and to the way people do their jobs, then this bit should be lots more straightforward!
Train people to develop the values
Provide development opportunities for your company values in the same way as you enable people to develop their skills and knowledge. Set individual personal development objectives that relate to values that people need to improve in. There may not be a training course to teach people about integrity, recognition, ownership, professionalism and so on, but activities such as coaching, mentoring, facilitated discussions, workshadowing, writing Reflective Learning Statements etc. are all ways in which people can develop more of an understanding and a commitment to demonstrating values in their job role.
Recognise and reward successes!
Reinforce values by acknowledging positive behaviours in some way – for example, rewarding great examples of putting values into practice, or ways that people have helped develop the values in others (such as sharing ways to demonstrate them, or coming up with new ways to communicate them.)
Rewards don’t have to be costly – thank you cards and small gifts (e-cards are free and environmentally-friendly!), mentions in newsletters and meetings, an ‘Employee of the Month’ award etc. can all help – and never underestimate the power of praise! Not only does this make people feel appreciated and more motivated, it also raises the profile of your company values and gives people even more of an incentive to live them day to day.
… remember that it’s no good if people are able to recite a list of values or value statements if they can’t actually describe what these mean to them or to the way they work! So don’t worry if people tend to forget the actual words or phrases you use for your values – the important thing is that they understand the principles behind them and how they can ‘live’ them in their daily job role. All of which will make your Values a lot more valuable!