Business success starts with strong values and culture

Building your values and culture: a blueprint for success

Shaping the right values and culture for your business is like laying proper foundations for your house. If you don’t pay enough attention to that underlying structure, it doesn’t matter what you do to the exterior or how you arrange the furniture – cracks will soon start appearing in the walls. And if you’re unlucky the roof might one day fall down on you.

Why is that? Well, it’s natural when we build a business to focus on what we do, but values and culture affect how we do it. And in a competitive market, the “how” is most often what’s unique about your business. It’s the “how” that’s really remembered by the people who interact with your business. It affects your sales conversions, your customer engagement and your staff retention.

Strong foundations start by:

Defining a purpose and mission

– that that will give your business direction;

Selecting values

– that give your team a reliable decision-making framework; and

The right conditions

– for a positive culture to flourish.

These three things create an environment which helps your staff to feel a sense of belonging and engagement. A study from the Hay Group found that highly engaged employees are, on average, 50% more likely to exceed expectations than the least-engaged workers. And companies with highly engaged people outperform organisations with a disengaged team by 54% in employee retention, by 89% in customer satisfaction, and by fourfold in revenue growth.

A study of more than 1,000 firms in the Great Places to Work database revealed a strong correlation between financial performance and the degree to which employees believed their company’s values were being practiced. And a 2016 Fortune survey found that while their Top 100 list companies had 3% revenue growth, companies in their Top 100 Best Companies to Work list had 30% revenue growth. 

The lesson’s clear: invest in the foundations and your organisation is more likely to succeed.

What are brand values?

We all have personal values, even if we’ve never articulated them out loud – statements of what’s most important to us; principles of how we try to treat others and how we hope to be treated in return. Brand values are the same but for your business. They guide you and your team about how to behave, make choices and interact with others. They provide a framework that makes it easier for everyone to identify which actions are right and which are wrong for your organisation. 

Not all values are created equal

Now, you may have a set of values already. Most organisations do. But are yours actually helping you achieve your mission and empowering your people? 

Be honest. Are any of the follow true of your organisation?:

If so, you’re not alone. But it means that in practice your business currently doesn’t have strong values. Here’s the good news, though: this is a perfect opportunity for you and your team to bond and refocus for success, by coming together to think deeper about what your business should stand for.

How to decide on core values?

 

Values should come within. There’s no point your senior leadership team sitting around a table and coming up with a set of values that they think are important, if it doesn’t resonate with the whole team. That’s just a recipe for another document that will be filed away and ignored. So bring your people together in groups and start with some brainstorming sessions.

These thought-starters are a handy agenda for your discussions: 

Photo by: You X Ventures on Unsplash

There’s no magic number of values you want to articulate. But to help make them memorable in practice, you don’t want too many. We recommend 3-5 brand values as a general rule of thumb. 

Values need to be true for the majority of the people that work for you, otherwise they won’t be a truthful representation of who you really are. You may not capture everyone and there may be a few outliers, which means some tough decisions may need to be made. 

Going deeper to stand out in the crowd

When you think of values, you may think of sustainability, responsibility, honesty, integrity, creativity, leadership, respect, communication… 

But ask yourself if these are really defining values? Are they going to set your organisation apart from others or are they simply table stakes? Don’t waste this opportunity creating values which keep you in the pack. Stand out and shine! 

As inspiration, here are a few examples of values from some of today’s most successful businesses

Zappos

Deliver WOW through service

Create fun and a little weirdness

Be adventurous, creative and open-minded

Be humble

Patagonia

Build the best product

Cause no unnecessary harm

Use business to protect nature

Not bound by convention

Lululemon

Taking personal responsibility

Nurturing entrepreneurial spirit

Acting with honesty and courage

Valuing connection

Choosing to have fun

Air BnB

Be a host

Champion the mission

Every frame matters

Be a “cereal” entrepreneur (no that’s not a typo)

Embrace the adventure

Need help developing your blueprint for success? Talk to us about a program to guide you through creating your values and culture.

Values need culture

If your values are your “how”, your culture is what puts that “how” into action. It’s a collection of business practices, processes and stakeholder interactions that make up the work environment. Your culture influences how your people feel, manifesting into how they interact with customers, which in turn defines the customer experience. 

Unlike your values, your culture will shift and morph over time to reflect changes in your staff and the wider business environment in which you’re operating. Patagonia, for example, embraces that its business culture varies from country to country, because it’s a reflection of the unique communities their staff come from.

But because Patagonia has strong values embraced by everyone in its organisation worldwide, its culture(s) stay on track and keep empowering their people to achieve their mission. And the same will be true of your culture over time, if you embrace the right values. 

How to give your culture direction?

Ultimately your people will shape your culture, but you have some control over this. You wouldn’t invite just anyone into your home, and similarly you shouldn’t invite people into your organisation unless you can be sure that they reflect your values. Skills can always be taught later down the track but a person’s inherent values are much harder to change. 

For new hires, ask questions that uncover who the person is and how they make decisions. And to ensure your culture is always thriving, don’t just consider if they “fit” your culture – think about if they add to your culture to help it grow

How do you know when you’ve got it right?

It’s a good question, and the reality is you may need a few attempts to get it right. Sometimes it can be about testing, reiterating and continuing to bring your community of people together. 

But if these attributes feel true after reshaping your values, you’re in good shape:

What next? 

Congratulations, you’ve drafted your blueprint for success. But there’s no point doing that and then sticking it away in a drawer. Keep it out, and refer to it as you build your business – and you’re building your business every single day. 

Reinforce your values in behaviour and processes. If you and your people can’t recall your values, then either you need to refine them more or you need to adjust how you’re embedding them in daily business.

There are so many ways you can make them a living, breathing part of your organisation:

Source: Ideo

How can you bring your values to life? We can help with brand videos, manifestos and internal signage.

The perfect circle of people and profit 

It takes focus, reinforcement and resolve from everyone in your team, but the payoff of building a vibrant culture reflecting strong values will be worth it.

You’ll create a community of people all working together to grow an organisation for which they feel a genuine sense of emotional ownership. With that kind of loyalty and positivity, you’ll create customer engagements that will be remembered and shared – exponentially increasing your marketing power. 

And you did it all by creating a workplace you love coming to each day.

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