Engineer Engineering Teamwork  - RAEng_Publications / Pixabay
RAEng_Publications / Pixabay

If you go on many corporate websites you’ll often find a page that describes their corporate values e.g. Tesco. If you’re like me you may be a little cynical about what you read on these pages. Too often they look good on paper but when you go into the organisation you find that no one really lives and works by those values (Tesco may or may not, I am making no allegations about them). Sometimes the employees don’t even know what they are. You may have experienced for example a company that says our customers always come first (or something like that) and then you either can’t reach a customer service operator or they are rude to you. They’re just not congruent.

Others take a different approach. They don’t feel the need to have a page describing what’s important to them, but when you go on their website or into their business you get a strong sense of what they stand for – it is woven through every part of the organisation. They live and breathe what they value most. Check out BrewDog’s website and you’ll see what I mean – like it or not, you can’t fail to recognise they have a strong culture.

If you don’t define your culture and then reinforce it at every opportunity in everything you say and do, then your employees, your suppliers or your customers will define it for you. And you may not like it.

I come across customer or supplier driven cultures a lot but the most widespread and often least productive is the employee-led culture because rarely does it lead to a striving for excellence, delivery of outstanding customer service or a commitment to maintaining margins and cashflow. I’m generalising, but for the most part left to their own devices these are not the outcomes of an employee-driven culture.

How do you change that and create an organisation where the culture is the business?

When everyone in the business is largely unconsciousness about the business culture – they just live it naturally.

To achieve this it’s often necessary to first go through an exercise to do the opposite, i.e. become conscious about what’s important to you. Physically making a list of values and discussing them as a team to evaluate their relative importance and how they impact on the way the business operates or should operate is an essential part of this process.

I was with a client last week who was complaining about a couple of members of his team. As he was talking I noticed words and phrases he was using. Phrases such as:

  • Committed to excellence and getting the job done.
  • Not just quality but craftsmanship.
  • Deliver on time and right first time.
  • Courtesy
  • Being polite.
  • Exceeding the customer’s wildest dreams.

Great values, right? Not a complete list, but he stands for something and he wants his business to stand for that too. But he wasn’t making his team aware of this. We talked about these values and raised his level of consciousness about their importance in his business so that he is now able to go through the process with his team.

Learning psychologists talk about people being in a state of unconscious incompetence and to change we need to go through a period of conscious incompetence – knowing we don’t know something – and this is exactly what is happening in his team now as they become aware of the values and expectations.

All change meets resistance and it’s important for him to be patient as the team start to consciously apply the values to everything they do. During this phase, they will make mistakes. They’ll forget to do something according to the values. It’s important to stick with it, be supportive and ensure that all experiences are discussed so that everyone learns good, positive habits that become embedded in the business. Over time conscious competence will develop and gradually, everyone will become unconsciously competent. At this point they can spend less time thinking and talking about it.

You’ll know you’ve achieved this when your website doesn’t need a values page any more – it just exudes everything that’s important to you. You’ll know because you instinctively hire the right people. You’ll know because most of your employees are committed, enthusiastic, motivated and engaged such that productivity and profitability go through the roof.

If you recognise that your company’s values are not in evidence, take some time to define what your business stands for and see what a difference it makes – it will be worth the effort.