Why organisational values are at the heart of every brand and how to define them

As a close friend and mentor often tells me – everything, everything, everything comes down to people. Well if that’s true – and it definitely is – and your people are a product of your organisational values (both in terms of recruitment choices and how those recruits develop within your culture), then by extension, everything, everything, everything comes down to your values.


Your values determine everything:

  • The customer experience – every phone call, email and meeting is shaped and guided by your values.
  • The company morale – working somewhere with a fragmented culture invariably leads to cliques and division. Your values are a way of helping everyone understand what’s expected of them and what they can expect from others.
  • Your products and services – the thing you sell, whether it’s gym membership, property, second hand cars, financial advice or computer components, is all the result of people. If these people aren’t all trying to achieve the same goal via shared values then that discord will be evident in the end product.


How do you identify your brand’s values?

There is no such thing as right or wrong, or good or bad when it comes to organisational values. There is only what is uniquely appropriate to you.

One philosophy is that your values already exist, and that you just need to pull them out of your people. It recommends that you ask everyone in the team what they consider to be most important traits among they and their colleagues and try to identify the common themes. I strongly discourage you to take this approach.

I know it sounds nice and democratic, but this is one occasion where democracy is unlikely to lead to the right outcome. The reason being that if you don’t already have documented values then it is likely the team will have an extremely broad range of views on what the values should be. After all, if the values weren’t defined then they’re probably a fairly random group of people all thrown together with little sense of shared culture.

I feel strongly about this as it is a mistake I made several years ago. Upon moving location we were under great pressure to hire a new team quickly (not to be advised). We then decided that as part of building the team cohesion we would ask them to work with us in developing our cultural values. Big mistake.

It wasn’t that their opinions weren’t valid, but they were all completely different to one another, not to mention completely different to the views of myself and the other director.


You need to trust yourself

In my opinion there are certain things that only the owners/directors of the business can decide, and this is one of them. I knew, as the owner of the business, what the shared traits were of the people that had been a great success for us in the past, and those were the ones I wanted to capture and nurture among the team moving forwards.


Getting buy-in is still critical

Whilst you need to be making the final decision, you do need to get everyone else to buy into the values or they’re not going to be worth the paper they’re written on. You can achieve this by asking the team questions whilst you’re developing the values (they will no doubt contribute invaluable ideas and perspectives!) and involving them in the final wording of the values. But ultimately, it has to be something that you’re happy with or it’s worthless. Do not compromise just to make other people happy.


Less is more

One of the biggest challenges in creating a set of values is keeping the number down. Who doesn’t want their team to be proactive, friendly, enthusiastic, results focused, determined, resilient, kind, expert, efficient, honest and 500 other things? However, with every new value you dilute the impact of the rest.

There is no right or wrong number, but I would argue that it’s very difficult for a value to affect people’s behaviour if the team can’t remember it, and most people won’t remember more than about half a dozen.


Consider having primary and secondary values

For some companies this may prove to be impossible, in which case I would suggest separating out the values into primary and secondary. The primary being those that you constantly talk about and that directly affect pay. The secondary might form more of an introductory handbook that you give to new employees or that you sprinkle throughout the office via inspirational wall art, for example.


Build your primary values into the very DNA of your company

Once you’ve identified the key values and ensured that they are well understood, you then need to build them into everyday life. Here some examples of how we live and breath our values at Boss:

  • Weekly meetings – we have a weekly meeting called the Boss Meeting in which we review client campaigns in a way that is shaped entirely by our core values – results, communication and ownership.
  • Pay structure – every value is attached to a pay bump. As soon as someone demonstrates they are embodying a particular value, that results in an increase. This system is completely transparent and consistent. Everyone knows where they stand.
  • The work environment – from motivational wall art quotes to games rooms, your work environment sets the tone for your culture. If you want to promote communication, for example, don’t partition everyone off. Steve Job’s vision for the Apple HQ is the ultimate example of a work experience designed around promoting a culture of serendipitous communication
  • Team activities – whilst we want a friendly atmosphere, we also want people to be highly competitive so each week we run a team game, anything from weightlifting to cocktail making.
  • Your actions – ultimately there is nothing more important for setting the tone than the actions of the owners and senior management team. If you don’t live by your values, you cannot possibly expect to see them in other people.


Be patient but uncompromising

Even with all of the steps above you need to understand that this is going to take months, probably even years, to fully embed. People don’t change their habits quickly, and unfortunately some never will.

Ultimately you must be prepared to hire and fire by your values. It doesn’t matter how skilled someone is, the moment you begin compromising your values is the moment they fail to mean anything. You must be absolutely uncompromising.

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