Good organisations have values. Their staff know them and live them. Does yours?
by Louise Powney
Values, mission, vision, aims, priorities. Whatever you call them, the organisation for which you work will almost certainly have them. And I bet they’re not much cop. In fact, I’d put substantial cash on the fact that you really don’t like them much.
Or perhaps it’s more a case that you really can’t muster enough energy to have an opinion either way, because they’re, well, you know … *shrugs*. For most employees this is neither here nor there, but for communicators this can be a hefty hump in the road. How often are you told “X, Y and Z should be aligned to our corporate values,” and then have a bit of a wild-eyed panic?
Do they inspire?
As much as I loathe the word “inspire” (the 2012 Olympics hammered shut the lid of that particular coffin) I believe values should be inspirational. They should convey what an organisation does, why doing it is a great idea and how everyone can go about achieving it.
How to achieve a set of values like this though? The answer is as clear as day to me and to anyone else who pays more than lip service to employee engagement: your staff. And how often does this happen? Not enough. But it can be done, and it can be done well, but for so many it is the very epitome of too hard to do.
Who do these values belong to?
Take a guess which organisation this is:
Our vision - To be the most creative organisation in the world.
- Trust is our foundation: we are independent, impartial and honest.
- Audiences are at the heart of everything we do.
- We take pride in delivering quality and value for money.
- Creativity is the lifeblood of our organisation.
- We respect each other and celebrate our diversity so that everyone can give their best.
- We are one [organisation]: great things happen when we work together.
Yup, it’s the BBC. Fairly obvious, no? But it’s how these were developed that’s interesting. If you’ve been trying to convince managers to engage staff on values, but keep being told that your organisation is “too big” quote these figures: Six months, 210 locations (in the UK and abroad), 10,000 staff, 25,000 suggestions. (And if that doesn’t work, you can always remind them of how BBC staff literally took to the streets to protest Dyke’s forced resignation …)
To find out more, read the two BBC chapters in Greg Dyke’s autobiography.
There is, however, one very important consideration to bear in mind before committing to this process. Whilst organisations can set out what they do and how their employees should behave, they should never ever tell their employees what to think or feel.
As unpalatable as it is, employers do “own” their staff up to a point, but if an employer thinks it owns what goes on in the heads and hearts of the people who serve them, then everyone needs to take a long hard look at themselves. This is not to say an employer can’t influence this. Indeed, this is what having an engaged workforce is all about. But there is always heavy lifting to be done here; it is never a case of saying it and it being so, that is institutional arrogance at its very worst.
The ultimate test of the value of values is whether staff take them with them when they move on. And this might happen, but only if they’re meaningful.
Scouting for values
After almost 30 years I still think the Guide and Scout motto, “Be Prepared”, is as good as it gets, and frankly if everyone, not just seven-10-year-old girls, heeded “A Brownie Guide thinks of others before herself and does a good turn every day,” the world would actually be a better place.
Similarly, up at the other end of the spectrum of uniformed organisations we find the Royal Marines with their Commando Values:
- Excellence – Strive to do better
- Integrity – Tell the truth
- Self-discipline – Resist the easy option
- Humility – Respect the rights, diversity and contribution of others.
Ask any ex-Royal if he still lives by these and he will look at you as if you’re crackers: of course he does.
So, yes, there is value to be found in values, but you have to invest time and effort in making them. It might feel like you’re dredging something up from the bottom of a lake, it might be more like pinning down a cloud, but however you have to go about it, make sure that what you end up with is worth having.
Louise Powney is a communications officer in the north west and a former newspaper reporter.
Picture credit: Florida Memory / Flickr