The exercise of creating “values” in business is in resurgence. It happens almost subconsciously, whenever the ethics of corporate culture falls under scrutiny, and so plaques, with words like: Teamwork; Integrity; Service; and Trust, appear on walls and notice boards in offices across the country.
And despite hours of brainstorming and word-smithing by executives and HR directors, much of it will be met with silence, cynicism or bewilderment, and in most organisations, the effect will be small and short-lived. Why? Because words on posters will never change the way employees feel about their employer, their colleagues and bosses, and about the customers they serve.
If you really want to change the way your employees feel about your business, the choices they make and the way they act, here’s how:
1. It Starts with You
Creating behavioural change starts with a clear understanding, in your own mind, of what behaviour you’ll tolerate to get the right result, and what is unacceptable at any price. The way to get really clear on this is by testing your preconceptions with real examples. Sit with your people in their meetings with colleagues, customers and suppliers, and talk about what you’ve seen with close colleagues. Build a clear consensus on the behaviours you do and don’t want in the business, and identify the people you’ve seen that have exemplified both types.
2. Integrity is Everything
“Do as I say, not as I do” never works, not even with kids. You and your colleagues need to demonstrate those behaviours you want to see in the organisation. As you start to share, first with your team, then with others, how you want people to act, they will look to your own behaviour to validate how serious you are. If they don’t think you’re serious, lip service is all you’ll get, and frankly, it’s all you’ll deserve.
3. Engage through Conversation
It’s useful to have a common set of words to describe, succinctly, the personality of the organisation, and those “values” that will help everyone make the right choices and act in the right way. But don’t fall into the “poster trap” - a handful of words is simply not enough, however carefully chosen; you need to create an ongoing dialogue. Spend time with teams, particularly those people who will recruit and develop others, new joins and first line managers. Let them question and challenge, share their experiences and dilemmas, and help them reach the same, deeper understanding that you have.
4. Commit through Action
A CEO recently shared with me a major breakthrough in his business. He described how he had agonised for months about a high performing senior colleague who simply wasn’t prepared to treat people the way the CEO wanted them to be treated. “When I finally faced up to the conversation, it wasn’t as tough as I’d feared. The public reason we gave was his desire to move on, but people aren’t stupid, they know the real reason, and that’s a good thing. It’s had a fantastically positive impact on how they feel about working for us.”
You can study the deep psychological models of values, beliefs and behaviours, or take a much simpler approach. First, get clear on what behaviour you want, then do three things: exemplify and reward it; explain and discuss the philosophy that underpins it; and recruit, retain and invest in those people that espouse it.