by Juliet Hancock

Organisational values

Important and lasting beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good or bad and desirable or undesirable

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 be effective as a business, and must be lived out in everyday practice and experience. 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.

Culture describes the way human beings behave together – what they value and what they celebrate.
Roger Steare, Financial Times, 15 July 2012

Organisation culture and values

Everyone has different values. Combined together, these form a key part of the complex and complicated cultures where we work and live.

Values are always personal, but some organisations chose to define ‘corporate values’ which describe the sort of organisation they are, what they stand for and how people will behave collectively.

Values are all too often felt to be limited to the strategic end of business development and/or ‘not relevant’. However, they have an essential role because they express what is most important if you are to carry out your purpose, strategy and business objectives. They are part of your unique organisation identity.

Clear values at organisational level will influence the decisions you take about what you do and how you do it – directly affecting the experience of your employees and customers.

Shared values

Your employees and your customers also have their own values which will influence their behaviour. The greater the alignment between their personal and your organisational values, and the greater the alignment between your people’s values, the greater the rapport, loyalty and commitment people will have to your organisation and its success.

The impact of behaviour

Leaders and managers indicate to employees 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. If you are in a senior or influential role, your words and deeds directly shape the organisational culture. In fact, as far as those outside the organisation are concerned, the words and deeds of all employees will be seen as an example of the culture of the organisation in practice.

Leaders get the culture they behave.
David Jarrett, Bath Consultancy Group 2012

You can choose to demonstrate and role-model explicit and intentional behaviour to drive specific results and actions.


Examples of the importance of behaviour on culture

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google encourages his staff to spend 20 per cent of their time on what interests them and not what their boss wants them to do. He says: ‘Out of that most of our great new products have come’.

These are his personal values, but by virtue of the fact that he's made them public, he is saying to Google employees that he values risk takers, welcomes change, and has faith that new ideas and success will come from them.

Julian Roberts, CEO Old Mutual plc, is quite clear about the importance of behaviour in establishing the culture Old Mutual requires, and leads by example: ‘It is very very important if you want to build a business where our customers trust us then the fundamental layer of our values, the fundamental layer of our behaviours is critically important... You’ve never done enough; it’s always a journey... you keep on having to refresh and remind people how important our behaviours are.’

And what happens when behaviours have negative consequences?

The negative impact of leaders’ behaviours on the culture of organisations has been epitomised by Bob Diamond, former Barclays CEO. He will regret saying in November 2011, ‘For me, the evidence of culture is how people behave when no one is looking.’ How right he was! The subsequent revelations of rate fixing and mis-selling led not only to the loss of stakeholder confidence in him and Barclays Bank, there was a knock-on loss of trust for other banking institutions and leaders in general. Barclays has now invested millions of pounds in redefining its values and training all its staff to achieve culture and behaviour change.

Values-led businesses

So 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 by stakeholders for both results and values.
  • There are clear mechanisms in place which ensure that values are the basis of a shared purpose which is understood and transmitted throughout the business.
  • Values place clear expectations on staff as to how they relate to each other, to suppliers and customers.
  • Staff views are listened to.

Examples of values-led organisations

 - John Lewis
 - Nationwide

‘Profiting from values’, Mark Lupton and Angela Lomax

For some samples of organisational values, see here.