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Elsa Gouws
Company values: Ditch the clichés, embrace the meaningful
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In an age of high competitive intensity and a tough economic climate, companies are struggling to drive brand differentiation and attract top talent. As a result, it is critical to express who you are as a company through a distinctive set of values.

Indeed, strong values provide a unique window into workplace cultures, they drive internal behaviours and they guide decision-making frameworks within businesses. In essence, values that truly mean something to employees, will be profoundly felt by the customers and communities they serve.

Sadly, we regularly see outdated and clichéd company values such as ‘integrity, teamwork, quality, customer satisfaction, respect, excellence and innovation’ bandied about - without taking into account what they really mean to the business or staff. In a study of 150 multinational companies, 74% claimed integrity as a core value, 41% espoused concern for customers and 39%, respect. Yet employees, for the most part, just don’t know what to do with such generic brand values...

 

So who is getting it right?

 

Brands that have a strong, values-based approach to doing business drive individual accountability and engagement through their inspiring, high performance workplace cultures. Uber, Google, Wholefoods and GE are standouts. Their organisational cultures are grounded in a set of core beliefs and commitments expressed through values that steer their respective business strategies, and determine their ways of working. For them, it’s not about the writing on their office walls but about the people that are committed, live the brand and to do their part in achieving the business goals.

For example, one of Uber’s values is to encourage employees ‘to take big bold bets’ so that in the ever-changing world of tech, the business continuously moves forward. Uber has recognised that only by constantly seeking better ways of doing things, can it really guard against nimbler and more agile competitors seeking to upend it.

WholeFoods, an organic food retailer, specifically states that they believe in ‘selling the highest quality natural and organic products available’ - which makes it very clear to employees how they should be sourcing, delivering and designing their products.

Similarly, Google doesn’t just claim ‘customer-centricity’ as a core value. Instead, employees adopt the mantra ‘focus on the user and everything else will follow’, which translates into meaningful products and services that truly serve the needs of their users.

 

So, when is it a good time to consider relooking and adjusting your company’s values?

 

  • When your company is going through massive organisational change and/or brand repositioning.

 

  • When social and economic contexts change thereby changing your customers’ needs and expectations.

 

  • When it’s clear your company’s current values hold little meaning for your employees.

 

  • Lastly, when your ‘company values’ are different from your ‘brand values’ – these should be consistent.

 

Here are six tips on how to create distinctive values within your business:

 

1. Make sure your values are aligned to your purpose and positioning, and bring these to life in tangible and practical ways.

2. Try ‘bottom up’, not just ‘top down’: through collaborative workshops, involve people from all levels inside the organisation in the creation of values.

3. Select a core group of brand advocates to lead the change: 5-10 individuals (depending on size of company) from anywhere in the organisation that best represent what the brand stands for, have a gut-level understanding of the culture of the organisation, and have the highest level of credibility with their peers.

4. Reinforcement is critical - repeat, reward and recognise.

5. Involve the people that interface with your customers on a daily basis.

6. Treat the process with respect and have patience.

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