Introduction to Values-Driven Businesses
The world is changing, and companies are adapting.
Many have realized the importance of values-based business cultures as they compete for talent, grow their customer bases, and increase engagement with employees.
When a company has strong values, which are apparent to employees, customers, shareholders, and the community, the company is considered a values-driven company.
In other words, values drive the business, which drives the culture, which drives results.
When a company values its culture, it becomes more attractive to customers because they can see that the company is attracting top talent who want to work in an environment that aligns with what matters to them.
In this article, we will discuss how value-driven businesses can build up their culture, so it reflects those values on all levels from:
- Hiring and retention;
- Connecting your culture to a cause;
- Turning personal values into shared values;
- Creating a space where people feel valued and respected every day, and
- Creating a plan to bring everything together.
Let’s start at the beginning.
What are Values in Business?
They are one of your guiding forces, along with your purpose.
Values help define your business culture.
Values are what you believe in, and they bring together your company's stakeholders.
An effective values-driven culture will help motivate people to work hard for the organization because of their personal belief system. Values will lead a team or an individual through any tough times that come up on the job - but it can only happen if everyone is willing to show others how important these values really are.
People with shared values work better together; this gives them a sense of solidarity against adversity, which helps morale overall.
Shared values also create stronger working relationships with co-workers and clients alike.
But values must be lived experiences – every single day – in every role, from the CEO to the most junior, part-time, or casual worker.
What is a Values-Driven Business?
To have a values-driven business, your values must be embedded in your DNA and your values must be visible to employees, customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders alike.
Many companies today place great emphasis on what is termed as 'core values.'
These include phrases such as integrity, growth, or service that sound positive and aspirational when displayed online or hung up around the office walls – but how often does anyone take them seriously?
Truly being called a 'values driven' business means that the values themselves need to be a guiding force in all aspects of company culture.
This starts with clearly defining what these core values are, precisely how they will guide decisions and actions at work, and then implementing them into daily practice as an integral part of business life.
To do this successfully requires each individual team member fully buys into their organization's beliefs and invests effort on a day-to-day basis for the greater good – whether you call it 'work,' or simply living one's personal values through professional endeavours."
Every company should have three to five core values they live by, and for people to really call themselves "values-driven," these values must be more than words on “that plaque in the lobby and lunchroom”.
They need to create an environment where every team member is inspired day-to-day with the spirit of their organization's beliefs; this starts from within each individual employee who strives daily to not only work hard but also do good to make their life experience better.
What is Business Culture?
In the simplest of terms: business culture is what happens when the boss is not watching.
It can be summed up as “the way we do things around here” day-to-day regardless of what’s written on posters and plaques.
What is Values-Based Culture?
A values-based culture is one where the values are not just words but guides for decision making and action within your workplace.
A values-driven business is dedicated to its values, which provide the moral compass used to guide business decisions.
It is a business that is purpose-driven and is focused on delivering the highest quality service possible to its customers.
A values-driven business is one that strives to combine the moral and ethical obligations of the organization with the needs of the shareholders.
The Benefits of a Values-Driven Business
A values-driven business has an edge over others in that it is authentic and credible.
It creates a connection with its employees, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.
The company’s values are communicated to the world through its actions and words which contributes to increased customer loyalty.
Customers identify with them because they share similar beliefs or passions.
A values-driven business
- Increases engagement with their staff as they feel appreciated every day for who they are and what they do;
- Attracts top talent from throughout the community because people want to work at a place where their personal values align with those on offer at your company;
- Builds stronger customer relationships as clients can tell that there's a sense of humanity behind what you're doing, which increases customer satisfaction;
- Becomes more valuable by competing for talent and so much more (depending on your values).
How to Get to the Core of Your Culture
Culture refers not just to what management wants people working for them to do but also to how you feel about your work environment. For this reason, culture should be rooted in personal values.
If you want your culture to be values-driven, it's essential that employees feel like they have a say in the way things are done at work and see themselves reflected in those values; this leads to increased employee engagement which is more likely to lead to better performance for both employers and employees.
Living Your Values on a Daily Basis
Engaging in values-based behaviors every day is the best way to reinforce core values and culture; these actions will serve as examples for others to follow.
At the risk of being annoyingly repetitive – it is not enough for words on a plaque or company slogan to communicate your values, you need employees living those principles every single day – this means going beyond the call of duty when it comes time to tell new hires what they are signing up for.
If senior-level leaders and managers do not live by their own stated values, why should anyone else?
And if everyone knows that management does not practice what they preach (or at least try hard), then how can people trust them?
Leadership has an especially important role here because leaders set expectations about behavior and performance from themselves first and foremost.
Values-Driven Organization Benefits for Talent Acquisition and Retention
Employees spend an enormous portion of their lives at work or thinking about work.
They often spend more time at work than they do away from work and if the work they do is not fulfilling, joyful, and aligned with their own beliefs and values, it results in a major disconnect.
This major disconnect results in depressing statistics related to employee engagement versus disengagement.
A values-driven culture will attract qualified candidates and retain valuable employees much more easily than a competitive company with no core values.
This is because the odds of an employee finding alignment to their personal beliefs at a place where they are happy, fulfilled, and engaged in their work is exponentially greater.
When people find meaning in what they do for a living, it can lead to them putting 110% into the project or task at hand since there's so much pride being taken in that aspect of their day.
That feeling alone breeds job satisfaction which inevitably leads to better client service as well as higher quality products and services marketed by your organization overall.
How do you put "Live Your Values" into daily practice?
Step 1: Create a values-driven business culture.
Values are the foundation for all successful companies, and they need to be integrated into every aspect of your business from recruiting to service delivery for them to take on an authentic life at work.
Part of being effective is following through with words by keeping practices as close to genuine as possible, so how do you know if your employees are living their stated values or simply going through the motions?
There will always be people who fall short because no one can achieve perfection, but we all have opportunities each day that allow us to choose between actions based on shared values or actions that support ourselves.
We need to be intentional when it comes down to building your culture or values will remain just those freaking words on paper instead of something everyone can feel and experience at work.
Step 2: Connect Your Business with a Cause
We are all aware of the values that drive our own personal lives and how important it is to be true in what we say, but when you live your values at work by fulfilling those same beliefs for everyone else – well then things really start taking off.
Take a look around: If there's one thing organizations need more than anything right now it's authenticity.
Employees want to feel as if they matter and their contributions have value – not just those words on paper or lofty promises from management, but actually experiencing this themselves each day.
And believe me, people can tell the difference between genuine actions versus simply going through the motions!
As someone who has built businesses before (and failed miserably because I didn't do this) let me tell you, it is so much more exciting and fulfilling to be working for the greater good of society (or whatever cause you connect with) while also delivering results for your employees, customers, and other stakeholders.
A values-driven business culture stems from a shared set of personal values that are deeply rooted in the organization's DNA.
Taking time to identify and develop your beliefs provides an excellent opportunity for alignment within an organizational structure, which is critical in today's ever-changing world.
But it doesn't stop with one person or team identifying their core values; these must be articulated across the entire company and embedded into decision making when applicable.
The real power comes when you can connect your employees' personal values to those same values – through volunteer work, charitable giving on behalf of the company, etc. – so they feel connected and committed not just as individuals but also as part of something bigger than themselves.
Step 4: Create a Space Where People are Appreciated, Respected, and Valued
This is one of the major areas for improvement within most organizations.
Sadly, no matter how "woke" many organizations believe they are with respect to changing expectations from customers and employees alike, they still treat employees like disposable and replaceable items.
Instead, they need to translate their core values into how they treat their most valuable assets – their employees.
To do that they need to create a space of diversity, inclusiveness, and an appreciation and respect for what people bring to the table (their whole self).
Step 5: Create a Calendar of Behaviours That Embrace Your Values
This is a technique I learned from Alan Williams, director at Service Brand Global, whom I interviewed for the Enlightened Capitalist Virtual Summit
He shared his technique in the full interview, where he works with clients to come up with 30 values-based activities each month. The employees are involved in the selection of how they can embrace the values in their work and they create a calendar. They then support each other and recognize those behaviours each day.
So perhaps today's "Catch someone doing the right thing" behaviour is encouraging fellow co-workers. Each employee is tasked with encouraging a fellow co-worker that day.
Or perhaps it's along the lines of "cleanliness" which isn't really a core value for most businesses but it could be for some – and employees are encouraged to go out of their way that day to ensure everything is spick and span.
The beauty of Alan's approach is that it brings the values to the behaviour level, chosen by the employees.
It also simplifies the many steps needed to change behaviour (and culture) into easy-to-understand and implement steps.
And his approach is also fun and can be gamified. It can also be easily incorporated into an employee recognition program.
Step 6: Catch People Doing the Correct Behaviours that Enforce Your Values
If you want to change your culture, change your future, change anything for that matter, positive reinforcement will get you much farther than punishment.
As a child of the mid-'60s and '70s in the UK, I'm all too familiar with physical punishment for doing the wrong thing. It was the way we were beaten into submission to do what was expected of us.
Fortunately, the world has changed and people now recognize that positive reinforcement and appreciative inquiry have much more powerful effects on our behaviour than punishment.
It's why we have rewards and incentives structures in place, as well as recognition programs for those who are doing the right thing.
But what if you're not able to change your culture?
What do you need to be reinforcing correctly?
It may sound like common sense, but it's amazing how often organizations forget this one simple principle: people behave in a way that is consistent with their values – or values they perceive themselves to hold high despite them feeling deep down inside that "something isn't quite right."
When working within an organization where there are conflicting values being reinforced by different leaders at different times of day, employees naturally struggle between competing values and will default back into old habits rather than embracing those "words on the plaque".
Therefore, as mentioned above, Alan's beautifully simple calendar makes it easy to catch people doing the right thing – when you know what that right thing is.
And once people get in the habit of recognizing the behaviours that align with the values, they don't focus on "today's values" as if they were an Advent Calendar – instead, they build on the values of yesterday, last week, last month, and even last year.
It's all about positive reinforcement of behaviours that matter.
Step 7: Reward Desired Behaviours in a Way that Aligns with Your Values and Culture (and science)
In the past couple of steps, the focus was on identifying and recognizing the behaviours that matter for values-driven businesses.
So where does the "reward" component fit in?
As an incentive company owner, who sells rewards as part of our suite of services and products, I'm going to be completely contrarian in my next statement.
Rewards can backfire.
Just think of all the children who grew up with "everyone gets a star" or "everyone gets a ribbon". What did that teach them? I can tell you that my high-performing children were so ticked-off and demoralized when everyone got recognized and rewarded, even those who didn't contribute.
Each child took her own approach.
One child, just stopped going to school. She'd had enough of the lowest common denominator and people getting kudos for doing nothing (btw, she did graduate and is excelling in her HR role!)
The other child complained that she was being asked to do all the work and she was always partnered with low-performing students instead of other high-performing students she could excel with.
She eventually got moved to a gifted student program where she self-directed her education and is now an assistant Treaty negotiator.
My point – other than a proud Mom moment to showcase my kids' successes – is to be very careful as to how you reward your employees.
Compliance should never be rewarded. It's expected.
As is attendance, meeting expectations, etc. These are part of the social contract of employment.
Catching people changing their behaviour to transition your culture to one of a values-based business is one thing – and a major thing.
Rewarding is only for exceptional results above and beyond expectations and it's never for low skills, low commitment endeavours.
The value of values-driven businesses is in their culture and community, not solely for the bottom line. With a focus on what matters most to employees, you'll create an environment where people want to be there for more than just a paycheck or benefits package. Value your team by being mindful about how you reward them - it will have far-reaching consequences.
A good place to start is with a review of existing policies and procedures that incentivize behaviours which don't serve the company's core values as well as developing new ones which do represent those values up front - whether they are written down or not.