Feeling a bit cynical about the idea of company values and purpose? Think they’re a load of corporate bullsh*t dreamt up by consultants who charge a fortune? That may be because you haven’t brought them to life in your business. It’s all very well deciding what they are. It’s a whole other ball game getting your staff to buy into them. You’re likely to face the same raised eye-brows and cynical shrugs of shoulders.
And yet, companies that do manage to live and breathe their purpose and values have a massive competitive advantage. Why? Because they help to shape a strong culture. This, in turn, energises staff, increases productivity and ultimately drives growth. Once you’ve embedded them in your business, they’ll act like a rudder, steering you through the challenges and opportunities of scaling up.
It’s important to put time and effort into this. So important that it’s the seventh of the Rockefeller Habits, the execution framework for scaling up designed by Verne Harnish. So how do you bring these game-changers to life in your organisation?
I’ve devoted previous blogs to finding your purpose and creating values with value. My advice is to start the process with the Executive Team, getting their buy-in before taking it wider. You want a high level of commitment amongst the leaders of your business, getting them to align around and engage with the process. If you go out too early to the whole company, the values you’re likely to end up with will be vague.
This is an opportunity for leadership. Your team need to decide where your organisation is now and where it’s heading. Jim Collins created some fantastic tools to help with this – I use his ‘Hedgehog Concept’ to help with defining the purpose and ‘Mission to Mars’ for core values. By working together, your team will gain a deeper understanding of what they’re about, what they believe in and what they value in their staff. This will make it much easier to sell their ideas to the rest of the company.
Don’t let purpose and values come down, chiselled in stone, from the top of the mountain. This is guaranteed to turn people off. Instead, once you have total agreement, the draft should be circulated wider to the rest of the company for their input. You want everyone to feel like they’ve been involved. Suggest they use the same, ‘Mission to Mars’ approach and get agreement around the identity of the ‘rock-stars’ in the organisation. The employees they respect and admire. You’ll probably find they will identify the same people as your Execs. And find it easy to work out why – the behaviours they exhibit that make these stand-out employees the best of the best. Your core values will flow from this.
Whether it’s daily huddles, weekly 1:1s, monthly All Hands – all meetings should be related back to purpose and core values. A fellow Scaling Up coach, Bill Gallagher, has a great suggestion. He gets his clients to repeat their purpose and core values every day in their daily huddle. Someone reads them with intent and then someone else listens with intent and says what they heard today. Only after six months of daily repetition does he feel that they’re finally activated and embedded in the organisation.
In meetings, ask your staff to tell you when they feel you aren’t living your values. When I was at Rackspace, our purpose was ‘Fanatical Support’ and we took this through everything, asking ourselves, ‘Are we being fanatical enough?’ If we identified areas that fell short, we addressed them. Staff told us our maternity package wasn’t fanatical. We changed it. We took our purpose and applied it more broadly, internally as well as externally.
Ensure that all positive and negative feedback from team leaders is related back to the behaviours that underpin your values.
A strong set of behaviours linked to core values can be used to catch people doing the right thing. Then managers can give specific praise in that context. You’ll find it gives them a fantastic vocabulary for coaching conversations.
It’s not enough to say, ‘Good job – well done!’ You need to identify and call out the specific thing that you want to see more of. If you have absolute clarity on this, it will make any corrective discussions much easier to have.
If your company is small, in one location, this is easy. But in bigger, multi-site businesses, it’s worth thinking about putting in software to help with praise. Peer 1 Hosting gave all employees points. They could give these to other employees who had helped them out, gone above and beyond. An accumulation of points could be spent on various swag such as hats, mugs or rucksacks. It acted as an internal market. And you know what was brilliant about it? As well as the good stuff, it showed us where we had black holes. The managers or teams that never got thanked. We could then focus on sorting out these pockets of mediocrity that were potentially holding us back. Later we had a gratitude tree which did a similar job – nice touches to encourage staff to live our values.
Everyone loves a story. And they’re a great way to build a cultural identity in business. They bind staff together in a sense of common purpose and a feeling of belonging. Try to encourage this folklore in your business so it demonstrates how the values and purpose are true and real. This is much more memorable than just telling people. Stories of living examples of the right behaviours in action.
I’ve had clients tell me about stories from other client businesses. One CEO client recently recounted something he’d heard from David Tudehope, CEO of Macquarie Telecom Group. An exceptional member of staff had gone above and beyond to help someone who’d called their helpdesk. His wife was on her way to the airport to go on holiday and realised she hadn’t set up data-roaming on her phone. Complete disaster! Macquarie’s values centre around doing the right thing for customers. So our heroine got a phone, charged it up, added a SIM card and set it up for roaming. Then she drove to the airport and gave it to the lady. And the amazing part of all of this? The woman in question wasn’t a Macquarie Telecom customer – she bought her mobile telephony from a competitor. But this member of staff knew that she needed to do the right thing. And it was likely that good things would come from that.
Use these stories as part of your on-boarding process. If you’re a new starter and you’re told how someone has been a hero, it shows the latitude you’ve got in the business. Stories that get told and re-told can be hugely powerful.
And whilst we’re talking about on-boarding, do you have a process laying out the first few weeks of a new employee’s role? If not, you need one. At IT Lab, our thing was Service ObsessionTM. This was our purpose, driving everything we did. Our orientation programme was called ‘The First 40’ and every hour was programmed. It ran on a monthly cycle, ensuring that all new hires received a full week of induction in their first month.
As part of this, I would talk to new staff about our values and tell them stories of heroes in the organisation. They would be encouraged to go out and create new legends. One way was to give each of them £5 and challenge them to leave the office and do something meaningful with their money, together. They came back with so many funny and touching stories. Some had tried to give their money to strangers in the street (surprisingly difficult), others had bought useful items for the homeless. In all cases, they’d hugely enjoyed themselves and got a real sense of the type of organisation they’d joined.
It’s really important to ensure all your staff are a values-fit. You need to be clear about the behaviours you want to see otherwise you won’t be able to hire for them. Once you have the list, you can turn them into specific interview questions, simplifying recruitment and making it consistent across disciplines. You’re only looking for people that exhibit and evidence these behaviours. And you want to repel those who don’t.
Values and purpose should provide your company’s unique vocabulary – the way you talk about all the positive or negative things day in, day out. This will enable your managers to become coaches and provide them with a framework to develop their team. Values are so useful for individual employees to assess their own behaviour and progress and understand their contribution. It shouldn’t be up to managers to tell them whether they’ve done well or badly. On a Friday at 6pm, they should know instinctively if they’ve had a good or bad week. Then it’s the manager’s role to discuss how they can help them improve.
Wherever I’ve been in the past, we’ve taken our values and made our appraisal scheme behaviour related. Not an annual appraisal scheme I hasten to add. If you’ve read my blogs before, you’ll know how much I hate anything that’s done on an annual basis. I’m talking about quarterly performance reviews where the employee fills in their form themselves and it’s clear enough to say, ‘This is what I’ve done, here are examples of me living the values, doing these behaviours, doing what I’m supposed to do. I rate myself as A, B or C.’ A leadership development framework can be really useful here showing a clear path for progression linked to core values.
A good set of values can help with workforce planning. Every quarter, rank everyone in your organisation against them. Decide whether they are A) exceeding your values, B) meeting them or C) falling short. You need to get everyone up to an A. It must be your aim to only employ A Players – the top 10% of available talent for a given salary, in your location, for that particular role. Remember, A Players are going to give you 10x or even 20x more for broadly the same salary. Only keep B Players if you think they have potential to be A Players. The C players or those who don’t live the values need some candid feedback and a narrower or new role. Or they need to leave.
Once you’ve rated all your staff you need to compare your rating to how they rate themselves. It’s important for them to know what they need to do differently. It shouldn’t be a surprise to them. If values are properly embedded and being used in daily coaching conversations with managers, they’ll know already what they need to do to improve. Every employee should be crystal clear on the daily metrics for their role. You can’t have a meaningful daily huddle without that. And if you have this framework and language in place, it makes otherwise difficult conversations very much part of the daily rhythm of the business.
Purpose and values form the essence of your company’s identity. They communicate what’s important to you and define your organisational culture. But they’re only truly valuable if they’re deeply embedded in the way you do business, interact with others, recruit, develop and grow.
Dominic has spent 14 years working in sales, marketing and business management within the IT sector. He has held executive positions at Peer 1 Hosting, IT Lab and Rackspace. At Peer 1 he built the UK business to £30m run rate in 5 years. He won many awards for creating a great place to work. At Rackspace Dominic built the UK company from four to 150 staff, and increased annual revenues from £595,000 to £25 million in just four years. Under his management, Rackspace was recognised as one of the most outstanding workplaces in Europe, and won several service awards for its Fanatical Support TM. Dominic has a BSc in Agricultural and Food Marketing from Newcastle and a MBA from Sheffield Business School. Dominic is also a regular public speaker on creating great places to work and achieving continuous client satisfaction and an assessor on the Sunday Times Customer Experience Awards.