It doesn't matter if your business is the smallest of the SME's or the largest of the Enterprises; defining what is core to you is the first step in understanding what should be important to your team, your customers, and your overall business personality.
You probably understand the importance of having something on paper that proves your business identity, and what your team stands for. But, are you living by this?
Let's be honest: with busy days come pressure to focus on operational related matters, and things like "culture" and "values" become second priority.
This is where we were at the beginning of 2018, when we decided that, in order to move ahead, we needed to stop and re-evaluate our vision.
This article attempts to lay out some of the learnings we acquired during this process.
It has to start from the top
No matter how many times you've heard this, the old saying remains true in the case of business value setting: instilling values in a business has to start from the top.
Sometimes, "starting from the top" begins with defining who your leadership team is!
When we kicked-off our values setting exercise, we took time aside to define our leadership team roles and responsibilities, by assessing if we had the right people in the right seats, and if the people in these seats had an understanding of what their responsibilities really were.
This starts by simply asking the questions:
"Do you know what you are accountable for in our business?"
We were fortunate not to have any issues or misunderstanding in our team. If you find your case to be different, our recommendation is to stop and re-assess your seats and people, to ensure clarity across the team.
Define what the word "value" means to your business
Even before we got into defining our values, we were sure to define what "value" meant to us, as a collective of people working towards the same cause.
In our world values are defined as:
"A set of strong opinions loosely held."
"The behaviors and attitude we want to encourage, or discourage."
Start by defining your teams personal values
To be able to articulate our business value, we needed to first be able to articulate our own!
Each person on our leadership team was asked to put down on paper 10 values that they believed in, and stood for every day. Commonly, you will find this exercise to show some similarities across your team, with values such as "honesty" and "empathy" popping up as you go through the lists.
After we had our team put down their top 10 values, we were then challenged to get the list down to the top 3-5 values which were non-negotiable to us, as individuals.
Going from personal to business values
As you would have guessed, the next step is about going from personal to business. When conducting this session we made sure we took our team for an off-site session, to ensure we were fully committed to putting together our best forward, without the day-to-day interruptions (I highly suggest you do the same in your business!).
Using the same process as the personal value setting, we short listed what we believed our joint list of values to be. From there, we discussed each of the values on the list, voting out those that were less important for our business.
Our final list of values were set to a total of five. These were the things we agreed to be non-negotiable to our business. We were also careful to word our values in a way that we could communicate these to the rest of the world, without confusion.
The five values we deemed as making us the company we are, were:
Everyone has a talent to offer. Our team knows their talent and works to refine it.
2. Continuous Learning
We want to be growing and continuously nurturing our talent. Because of this, we are continuously learning.
We might be talented, but we know there are always people smarter (or better) than us. This fuels our drive to learn.
The solution is not always straightforward, specially when innovating. Because of this, perseverance is a key component to our success.
We pride ourselves in being creators of innovative solutions that enable our clients to achieve leverage.
Broadcasting your values to the rest of the team
Just as important to reaching consensus among your leadership team, so is to communicate your messaging to the rest of the staff, in a way that they will understand. At Lancom, we held a staff session to discuss our set of values, and give our teams a chance to ask questions.
We allowed our team to digest the information for a couple of weeks before we started "changing everything" in terms of our processes and how we do what we do.
We were transparent to let our team know that nothing that we used to do would change because we defined our values in a framework that we could now use. However, the values were set for a reason, therefore these would inform some of the tactics we adopted in the business going forward.
Our team loved being exposed to what our company was all about!
Humans seek clarity. Being able to provide your team context on what your business stand for brings empathy, relatability, and ultimately accountability.
Living by these values, every day
From daily stand ups, weekly meetings, informal chats, and our hiring process - our values are now an integral part of our thinking process as a business.
It not only allows managers to hold meaningful conversations, but also staff to recognise each other when they catch a colleague living by our values.
We made these values visual in our office, we recorded videos about it - and told our clients about these too!
Our employee performance reviews are now heavily based on the values we got to set for ourselves, our hiring process relies heavily on those, and so does our client acquisition.
Our founder Warwick Eade, discussing our values and how they relate to our recruitment process
Extending the values to your customers
It is fantastic to instill values inside your organisation. However, a business is not a business without its customers. Having a values framework has also enabled our sales teams to quickly assist an opportunity-fit, as well as watch for "red" lights.
For our existing customers, we get to share these values on an ongoing basis, from the day-to-day of support tickets through to strategic conversations. The point being - everyone in our organisation can not only articulate what we are about, but also practice it!
To draw some conclusions, I have noted here some of my learnings by going through this process at Lancom.
1. Your great service or product is a result of your people. Think about them first.
Ensuring everyone is aligned behind your strategic direction is a must for growing businesses. Whether you have a framework for it, or have your direction written in the back of the napkin, ensure you are communicating your culture code (aka values) earlier and often!
Your values should be the most important document in your organisation. Having these values down will not only help you attract the right people, but also grow your business.
Here's the winning formula: right people in the right seats = growth
2. The show must go on
Instilling values goes beyond the beautiful speech you might be able to deliver to your teams. The process has to cascade down from top to bottom on a daily basis - and be improved constantly to ensure alignment. At Lancom we are doing this at least once a quarter (at a company level), every week at our weekly meetings, and every day on our stand ups.
3. Some people will drop off
...and that's okay! Having a smaller team that aligns to your values is better than a bigger team that is disconnected. Be ready to "loose" before you gain.
4. Cut the BS
If you have a set of values that only you are aware of, or think some people might know about, it is time to be real! Face your situation and start from the begging if you need to.