Your culture really is one of the most important things of your company, it’s who you are, it’s why customers choose you. Build a great company which you would want to do business with yourself. If you get this right, your culture is right.”
– Richard Branson
Have you spent time, money and energy establishing your values but feel that nobody really engages with them?
Until recently, that’s how I felt. In this blog post I’ll share how I turned our big idealistic values into a guiding set of practical principles that have been adopted by my team and have really made a difference in my business.
A refresher on culture and values
Gary Peterson rightly identifies that values are critical to long-term growth . Well defined values act as the very fabric of every person involved in the company – from executive team to brand new hire.
Most second-stage business leaders already know this and can often identify a few key words that describe the way they do business. The problem is in their execution. The struggle to get everyone else to connect those key words to their day-to-day behaviour because they are hard to monetise and easily dismissed as impractical and idealistic. They recognise the importance of values but fail to make any real change in their business.
That’s where I failed too.
What I did first time around
I did things exactly by-the-book.
Firstly, I asked every member of staff to contribute their ideas, as suggested in every article I’ve ever read on the subject. I agreed that The Clean Space values should be built from the bottom-up rather than being dictated from the top down. I wanted to ensure that the values embodied who we really were at every level – not just who I wanted us to be. And I wanted my team to hold the values as their own.
The initial meeting seemed successful. The team were fully invested in coming up with suggestions and we had a good, hearty, open debate about which words really described us.
After summarising our ideas into a list of adjectives we took some time out and revisited them again as a team a few weeks later. After a bit more debate to ensure they were the best representation of us we settled on a list of six words. We had our core values.
I then resolved to put them anywhere and everywhere so we would be reminded of them wherever we went. I got a massive sign printed and hung it in the kitchen. I laminated our values and stuck them on the back of the toilet doors. I even spontaneously quizzed people to encourage them to learn them off by heart.
I believed that if everyone could recite the six words then they would also live and breathe them.
The reality was somewhat different.
What actually happened
My efforts resulted in a team of people who could blindly recite a list of words which represented our values. The problem was, if I asked those people what the six words really meant I would get some fairly woolly answers. If I asked those people how they should use the six words in their day-to-day working life I would get blank faces.
I had inadvertently moved The Clean Space to the Land of Oz and created a team of Tin Woodmen. Nobody was really connected to the content.
I realised, as did the Tin Man, that a culture without a heart was no culture at all. So I decided to figure out what needed to change. I dug out all the books and articles and re-read them. I signed up for any presentation on culture I could find. I discussed the topic with other business leaders. Eventually the penny dropped.
The penny drop
One night, over dinner, I was discussing my problem with some fellow entrepreneurs and I finally figured out the problem. I realised that a set of values was only half the job. What we needed was a set of associated behaviours that people could relate to. Not remote, abstract standards that seem to belong in another world but concrete, observable conduct.
Behaviours represent the interface between a value as a single word and how that word translates into day-to-day conduct of the team. They transform values from vague ideals on a pedestal into clear positive actions in the workplace.
I realised that alongside the fixed set of values we needed a continually evolving, living, breathing set of behaviours with which to measure ourselves.
What I did the second time around
When we met again to identify our values, I asked the team to also describe real-life examples of behaviours that would be consistent with each value.
For example, one or our core values reliable had the following example behaviours:
- Always to be at work on time and ensures attendance is good
- Always be on time when attending meetings
- Always meet deadlines
- To be known as dependable and always on hand to help
These examples make it much easier for the team to comprehend what we really mean by a specific value. They are concise and easy to digest, not ambiguous or clouded by jargon. And critically, they are measurable.
It makes it easier than ever to recognise when a team member is or isn’t adhering to our values – and to communicate to them exactly what they’re doing right or wrong. So much easier, that our team have started calling each other out on each other’s behaviour.
We try to use them everywhere we can. When interviewing potential new team members we assess behaviours based on their approach to different scenarios. In our 6 monthly appraisal cycle we have a section dedicated to culture where staff rate their own performance in line with each of the values. Our Employee of the Month is only awarded to cleaners who have excelled in living the values.
The graphic below lists the areas into which we’ve embedded behaviours.
Expanding my thinking to include behaviours in our definition of culture has helped educate and engage staff in acting in accordance with our values, resulting in something The Clean Space team really live by.
But I do not view our work as done. As the business continues to grow the values that we need to succeed will evolve. Reviewing and tweaking our values as we move along the journey will be necessary and will require more time and energy.
I will let you know how we get along.