• dragonfish

The importance of embedding values into everyday behaviour

Updated: Apr 17, 2019

How many of you have heard people describe their company values as merely ‘posters on a wall’? But if all you do is print them on a poster, then that’s probably all they ever will be. Values have the potential to make a fundamental difference. They have the potential to drive behavioural change and improve performance. They have the potential to deliver an organisation's purpose on a daily basis. They have the potential to drive success and achieve a vision. They have the potential to motivate, inspire commitment and elevate a sense of pride.

...not so much time is invested in making sure these values are meaningful, memorable and pragmatic.

Whilst significant time, resource and investment goes into coming up with the values that will drive a business forward, not so much time is invested in making sure these values are meaningful, memorable and pragmatic. That people in an organisation understand what the value means in practice, in their day-to-day behaviour.

But if you take time to build the business case and recognise the fundamental difference that a clear set of values can have, then you will also see the importance of having clear strategies and plans to ensure their successful delivery.

Let’s take meaningful first

To make values live, breathe and stick, they need to be practised and visible in everything we say and do – formal and informal. They need to be meaningful and embedded into everyday behaviours.

Mapping desired behaviours to your vision, purpose and values is fundamental to improving performance – it gives everything meaning. But how do you approach this? A good starting point is to identify what ‘good looks like’ and using this as a basis to develop a behaviours framework that works across all levels of the organisation and makes sense to everyone.

When creating your behavioural framework consider:

  • How do we embody this value to our customers and in the work we do?

  • How do we express this value in how we interact with each other and across teams?

  • How does my manager demonstrate this value?

  • How do our high performers live the value?

  • How do our leaders evidence the value?

  • When displaying this value – what are we thinking, doing, or saying?

Remember that having a clear set of values and behaviours is not about micromanaging, it’s about everyone understanding what is important, and empowering them to behave in the right way. The process of translating values into meaningful behaviours often opens up useful conversations to enable employees to help to shape successful ways of working.

Let’s take a value like teamwork, for example. We can all say we value teamwork, but how many of us take the steps to articulate what teamwork actually means for our business – what behaviours should it signpost across the business to enable teamwork to be truly embedded and to positively affect performance?

Now let’s consider memorable

As culture consultants, we often see organisational values that are too conceptual, too vague or too commonplace to stand out. Values such as integrity. Let’s face it, if I asked a number of people what this actually meant I’m convinced I’d get a range of definitions. Yet integrity remains one of the most popular company values. According to research by Fortune 100, over 55% of organisations have ‘integrity’ as a value. Surely integrity should be a given – it’s not standout, authentic or differentiating in any way. We should expect all companies we deal with to act with integrity.

According to research by Fortune 100, over 55% of organisations have ‘integrity’ as a value.

Differentiate your values, make them different from your competitors; whilst at the same time ensuring they are aligned to your purpose and vision. They are there for a reason – to drive performance and success.

Values have the ability to differentiate. Ordnance Survey recently re-launched their values as ‘adventurous, incisive, restless and true’ – they reflect changing customer needs and the need to remain relevant.

Other brands with differentiating values include:

Nike who has a set of 11 guiding principles called ‘Maxims’, including:

  • Simplify and go – as products have short lifecycles in terms of technology and fashion, making quick and skilful decisions is key.

Airbnb have a set of 5 values, including:

  • Be a host – which adheres specifically to the principles of the Airbnb experience, it means hospitality runs in their blood, it means opening up and helping others is second nature.

Finally let’s make values pragmatic

Values are signposts to a set of behaviours. Behaviours are demonstrable, observable and actionable.

So how do we embed our values and behaviours into the everyday ensuring everyone embraces them and acts upon them?

Ask yourself the following:

  • Do your leaders and managers actively role model your values, do they take a pro-active stance and make personal commitments?

  • Do you make all decisions through the lens of your values?

  • Do you use your values to measure employee performance?

  • Do you encourage regular behavioural feedback conversations, or do you have 360º behavioural feedback mechanisms?

  • Do you recruit talent based upon your values and behaviours?

  • Do you have a framework to measure performance and behaviours?

  • Do you reward and recognise people for their contribution based upon living the values and showcasing the behaviours in action?

We need to make our values real, tangible and actionable by clearly articulating what they mean in practice from a behavioural point of view. A purely abstract set of values will not become part of our everyday, part of the DNA of our organisation. It won’t positively affect change.

To conclude

It’s our view that values are nothing without behaviours. It’s like strawberries without cream, pancakes without syrup, gin without tonic. Values are only truly meaningful when expressed as behaviours. It’s behaviours that drive performance. It’s behaviours that build robust and resilient cultures. It’s behaviours that determine how we talk to and treat customers and each other. And it’s behaviours that bring our values to life in the everyday.

So whilst it’s important for organisations to review, revalidate, reaffirm or refresh their values, they also need to go beyond the words. They need to make values meaningful, memorable and pragmatic through embedding the right behaviours.

At dragonfish we pride ourselves in helping organisations to crack their culture code and transform performance and are on a constant mission to make culture change real, tangible and commercial. If you are interested in finding why our approach is so effective, get in touch.