The value of values

 A discussion on the opportunity to develop values as distinctive drivers for your organisation, its people and brands. As first written for First 5000.

Off the back of Royal Banking Commission Report and the fourth edition of the ASX Corporate Governance Councils’ Principles and Recommendations, there has been a lot of discussion around values.

Not dissimilar to purpose and brand, values are frequently stuck in the “fluffy” basket, eyes roll and glaze over. They are intrinsically more emotive and less tangible than their rational, tangible business strategy counterparts of vision, mission, strategic goals and financial objectives.

I suspect this is why we all too often see values that are generic – innovation, teamwork, excellence, leadership – and stuck on the wall – in an attempt to make them rational and tangible.

Values at the core

Given investment, values can provide a powerful linchpin for the business.

They provide the link between the vision (where to), purpose (why) and strategic goals (what), as to how people go about their everyday jobs, how they treat others and can expect to be treated.

Translating your values to behaviours provides a guide for people’s everyday actions – what they say and do. They form the foundations for an organisation’s culture “culture is values in action” in which like-minded – or like-valued – employees feel safe and belong.

Values are two-way: guiding what the employee does and what they get from others and the organisation as a whole.

Values provide the link between the business strategy, the brand strategy and the employer brand strategy. For both brand and employer brand, values help to differentiate and position the brand in the marketplace and draw customers and employees who seek those values.

As such they influence your reputation as an organisation, brand and employer brand.

We use brand values as the start point for brand personality and tone of voice, so values become the image your brand projects to the marketplace, against which the organisation and its people deliver.

Organisations in which all brands – corporate, customer and employer – are the same (monolithic brand architecture or ‘branded house’) work with the same values at the core, or an expression thereof that is more relevant to the audience and brand. Organisations with multiple brands (product brand architecture or ‘house of brands’) still align to the corporate brand values, whilst honouring the individual brand’s audience and proposition.

With all this potential, the opportunity is to develop values as distinctive drivers for your organisation, its people and brands.

Turning generic static values into distinctive drivers

Let’s take innovation as an example.

Innovation is important to most organisations today, which by definition means that it’s generic. As a prospective customer or employee, I will not choose you over another company because you both value innovation. As an employee I can’t tell what behaviour is expected of me to deliver what type of innovation. As a customer, I know what to expect in terms of product, service and experience.

Virgin is known as being an innovative brand in a way that challenges the status quo. Their definition of innovation is “smart disruption”. All of a sudden, as an employee, I know what to expect, I know what is expected of me in terms of behaviour and work product; and I get a sense of the culture. “Smart disruption” positions and differentiates the brand and employer brand for both customers and employees.

SUMO Salad is another brand known as being innovative. Two of its values inspire different types of innovation: “keep it fresh” is about delivering fun, new ways make eating well easier and “go wild” is about pushing boundaries. Linking to its purpose of ‘fuelling greatness”, employees and customers know what they’re getting and giving when it comes to innovation.

Unilever’s definition of innovation in their values is “pioneering” described as taking intellectual risks to stand out in the industry. They do this at a corporate brand level and at a product brand level. “Pioneering” brings together people and brands, and separates the organisation from competitors for talent and customers.

To get the most value out of values

  1. Be armed with strategic plan – vision, purpose and strategic goals; vision and purpose can be defined/honed in parallel or as part of the process but you’ll need to know where you’re heading and the levers you need to pull to get there
  2. Consult employees across all levels, functions and departments organisation in understanding what’s important to them and their experience, what keeps them in the organisation and what’s not working
  3. Consult customers to understand what’s important to them and their experience, what keeps them as customers, and what’s not working
  4. Focus on developing 4-5 values that are important to all, true to the organisation at its best – what’s in your DNA – and what you need for the future to achieve the vision and strategic goals
  5. Define them in a way that reflects your organisation’s distinct definition, personality and way of doing things
  6. Translate each value to behaviours, aiming for a maximum of 3 behaviours per value… at the end of the day, the simpler this is, the more likely people will remember and emulate
  7. Training with leaders to understand the values and behaviours, how to role model them and coach employees in them
  8. Immersion with employees in teams, understanding how to apply the values and behaviours to their everyday jobs and actions
  9. Values embedded within the culture and throughout the employee experience, at the individual level, teams and organisation wide – personal development plans, benefits offer, reward and recognition, activities, environment etc.
  10. Ensure customer, product and employer brands are aligned to the corporate values, within the context of the brand architecture

Given the potential of values as distinctive drivers for the organisation, its people and brands, they deserve the investment.

Image source: Dreamstime | Picma229