by Juliet Hancock

In a nutshell

1. What values are and are not

Values are often confused with beliefs, ethics, morals, principles and behaviour. They may overlap, but are not the same.

  • Our values are what is most important to us. They affect what we chose to do and how. Our core values are part of our identity and guide our decisions. Our values do not tend to change, but the way we prioritise them does.
  • Beliefs are why we think something is important or desirable (or undesirable). This may not be ‘true’ or ‘real’, but we believe it to be. Our beliefs may change.
  • Principles help us to predict what we think ‘will’ (or believe ‘should’) happen. Principles include a level of judgement.
  • Ethics and morals include a sense of right and wrong, whereas values in themselves are neutral – they are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
  • People don’t judge us by our values, they judge us by our behaviour. Behaviour can be positive or negative and can be changed. Our behaviour may or not be aligned to our values, but people will make assumptions about our values by our behaviour.


2. Our personal values

Our personal values describe what is most important to us: what we instinctively prioritise above other things – our ‘inner guide’. They are the core of who we are, being the fundamental things that need to be present in our lives for us to feel happiness, satisfaction and fulfilment.

  • Our values provide the motivation, drive and energy to get things done.
  • Being more aware of our own values helps us understand why we act the way we do and how we are perceived by others.
  • Awareness of other people’s values helps us understand what motivates them and causes them to act as they do.


3. Organisational values

For values-led businesses, values act as a golden thread that runs through every level of their business strategy, performance management systems and corporate communications. What are the key attributes of values-led businesses?

  • They are good at what they do.
  • They see values as a major motivator for staff.
  • Values motivate and tell a story, both internally and to the outside world.
  • They are seen as open and trustworthy.
  • Management is held to account for both results and values by stakeholders.
  • There are clear mechanisms in place which ensure that values are the basis of a shared purpose, which is understood and transmitted through the business.
  • Values place clear expectations on staff in how they relate to each other, to suppliers and to customers.
  • Staff views are listened to.


4. Why are values important to managers?

Managers are like the glue in an organisation. Individually they show in their behaviour what is important. They are also judged collectively by their behaviour and actions by the people who work with and for them.

  • Managers who are in touch with their own values can articulate them appropriately.
  • The management of the team is aligned with desired culture and values.
  • The personal values of individuals are recognised and aligned with corporate values.
  • Individuals are therefore allowed to do their best work.
  • Stakeholders see/experience a recognisable culture that keeps them coming back for more.


5. Values in practice

Once you become aware of values in yourself and others, you will hear what is most important to people by what they say, what they choose to do and where you see their energy and enthusiasm (or lack of it). And you will learn to recognise your own values in the way you feel and react at work and outside.

  • It helps to name values, but be aware that different words mean different things to different people.
  • Some values/needs describe the outcome we seek (for example, making a difference, equality or justice); others are more about how we experience life’s journey (such as collaboration, caring or integrity).
  • If you understand and pay attention to the lower level or ‘maintenance needs’ of your people, this will allow more energy to go into the higher level needs and motivators of your team members.
  • If the values of staff are being met in terms of their needs and motivators, they will be more ‘engaged’, and productivity will increase


6. Using values to enhance employee engagement

Employee engagement is a major topic in national and international conversations and a term which is increasingly being used by organisations because of the impact it is known to have on other key effectiveness measures.

  • Engaged employees bring greater productivity to their work, and feel more personally and professionally fulfilled.
  • If the values of staff are being met in terms of their needs and motivators, they will be more ‘engaged’, and productivity will increase.
  • By listening to what is most important to staff - in other words, their values, and the extent to which these are met - action can then be focused on the areas that will make the biggest difference to individual and organisation engagement, productivity and effectiveness.
  • Organisations with engagement scores in the top quartile have twice the annual net profit of those in bottom quartile, 2.5 times the revenue growth and 18 per cent higher productivity.


7. Working with your personal values

Identifying and then working with your personal values is the starting point for working with values. Self-awareness will not give you solutions, but it will tell you what are the key ingredients of the ‘right solution’ for you.

  • If you are in touch with your own values about what is important and why, then you can make more informed choices about what you do in your work and beyond, and how you do it.
  • It will also help you to recognise and articulate the importance and role of values when working with others (for yourself and for them), enhancing the decisions you take.


8. Working with the personal values of others

To get the best from people, a good manager recognises that everyone’s values are different and that what is motivational and meaningful for one person will be different for another.

  • When recognising/acknowledging achievements, ask them what was particularly satisfying about their work/that task.
  • When things haven’t gone so well, ask them how they feel about it.
  • Understanding common values, and working in a way which harnesses these, will increase the commitment and performance of each individual.


9. Identifying/refreshing organisation values

For organisation values to be meaningful they need to be ‘core’; in other words, they should be the foundation of the organisation’s identity and decision making.

  • Be clear from the top about why you need clear organisation values, how they will fit with your business identity, purpose and objectives, and how your values will be used.
  • Distil your values into what is really important: the values you can’t do without because they represent the essence of the organisation.
  • Engage your employees and your customers. Ask them what is most important to them in the organisation and the work they do/service they receive.
  • Actively listen and use the language your employees and customers use to describe what is important and why it is important. Explain each value in a straightforward sentence, explaining what people understand this value to mean.
  • Translate the chosen values into behaviours. Describe what this value looks like in action and role-model the behaviour at all levels, starting from the top.
  • Refine the process. Culture and behaviour never stand still.


10. What values look like in action – behaviours

Leaders and managers indicate to staff and customers what is important by what they actually say and what they do – not what is written on the wall or in corporate literature. Whether they are written down or not, values define your brand and reputation. They need to be translated into the behaviours which you need to demonstrate to be effective as a business, and which must be lived out in everyday practice and experience.

  • Clear organisation values will include a description of the sort of behaviour that is expected, which then needs to be practised.
  • The first step in ensuring that values are lived out in practice is to clarify the behaviours that exemplify specific values.
  • People (including senior managers) should then be rewarded or held to account accordingly.


11. Measuring values and their impact

If values are to be consistently acted out in behaviours, then performance measures must be designed with those values firmly in mind.

  • When setting your corporate objectives, decide what indicators of success you will include in line with your values.
  • Include ‘quantities’, such as staff turnover, sickness and unplanned absences.
  • Consider using a direct employee engagement measure, such as OCR.
  • Consider using a quarterly ‘pulse’ survey, which asks directly ‘to what extent is the organisation/senior management/my manager living the organisation’s values?’, and publish results by team.