Whether emblazoned on the wall of a corporate headquarters foyer, or more subtly identifiable in the way staff interact with each other and customers, it is rare for a company not to have identified its corporate values. And it is in times like these when they really come into play.
When things are uncertain, the short-term future and long-term path are unclear, but values can remain consistent. They are a beacon of comfort, hope and security, and it is important to stand by them in times of economic unpredictability.
The trick is not in having values, but in living themMark McFall
Of course, company values are not a new concept, but have become increasingly popular, with organisations using them as a recruitment tool or a driver for employee behaviour. By the same token however, there has been a rise in scepticism from investors and employees alike as to their actual value.
Little wonder, when well-known institutions on both sides of the Atlantic have suffered collapse from mismanagement despite having supposed values. The trick is not in having values, but in living them.
Values act as a signpost or compass for employees working within a company. When times are hard, they can aid judgement, determine actions and responses, and help to steer a course of action. Values should provide a complete picture of what is absolutely paramount to the company, in good times and bad, in order that they can be followed without conflict.
Values are nice to have, but hard to follow. Where issues arise, they can be pushed to the bottom of the pile. Integrity, respect, teamwork, innovation, or whatever other values a business holds dear – it’s easy to forget these things when the next deal is the only game in town.
But long-term success depends on keeping your head, and maintaining the values at the heart of the business. The more they are discussed at every level of a company, the more they become real. If they are left on a shelf to stagnate, the more cynicism around them becomes rife.
The challenge for businesses in the current climate is directly relating values to business performance. Those companies that are utilising values to their utmost are doing far more than simply displaying them on corporate materials or in their foyer, while the more cynical may believe that by ticking the values box, they can “gloss over” gaps in their culture, or even take the heat out of irregular practice. Not today.
In a climate of accountability, and an unsteady ship, deviation from values will undermine the business in the eyes of employees and stakeholders. Who wants to do business with a company that turns mean when the heat is cranked up?
Values start from day one, or even before then. Some companies are using their values in their recruitment process to great effect. Values are an easy way to identify individuals who share the same standards as the company, and as such will buy into the company ethos and culture.
Individuals who fit the values and culture of a team are just as important as those who have the requisite technical skills for a position. Moreover, candidates will be far more likely to want to join a firm if their personal values match that of the employer.
Forward-thinking organisations also use their values as the basis for their business planning and objective setting, and when times are tough, this should be even more important.
Application of values across the business can lead to better employee, customer and stakeholder engagement and, in uncertain times, can give the company some solid ground. Those companies that have embraced a value-driven culture and measured the impact on the bottom line really can demonstrate tangible benefits to employees, potential employees and investors – and while all around is shifting, this type of solidity can be worth its weight in gold.
• Mark McFall is managing director at Change Recruitment Group, with offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh