Are Values Dead?

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Happy Halloween from Developa!

A topic of late we’ve been discussing in our network is whether values are dead. It’s an interesting question and in true leadership style, when there’s answer to be sought, start with why.

Digging up the past

Back in the nineties Jim Collins and Jerry Porras wrote the book ‘Built to Last’, claiming the most enduring companies were such because they had values at the heart of their company. These values they claimed may reflect the values of the company’s founder(s). Their vision and values framework became widely adopted in the corporate world and soon into the start-up ecosystem. 

Fast forward to today, pretty much every company you can think of, have company values. In the same way all companies need a website, social media presence, company values are at risk of being another thing simply to tick on the company creation checklist.  We’ve recently heard of some start-ups ditching them altogether. When you look online, much of the literature on company values is advising them to center around the following

• Integrity

• Trust

• Respect

• Honesty

Shock Horror Alert!

And this is the first problem. Integrity, trust, respect, and honesty on their own are no longer good examples of company values. We’re siding with Simon Sinek on this one. This is because trust, respect, and honesty are personal values and should not be confused with company values. 

They are relevant to all aspects of our lives including (but not unique) to work. We trust the food that we buy is not contaminated, and we trust our partners to be faithful. We expect honesty fundamentally in our lives and dishonest behaviour becomes newsworthy. We expect the same from our interactions at work. Confusing company values with personal values makes it hard to connect to or decipher what’s unique about your company culture.

For the lucky ones that have created company values, the next faux pas is the classic ‘set and forget’. We see this is a common cause with those who have become disillusioned with company values. Putting the values on the website, job specs, and up on the wall is the easy bit. Embedding and using the values day to day just like we do with our personal values takes far more effort and is fast becoming problem number two. The use of these to build the unique culture and base the operating principles on becomes at risk of never being realised.

Back From The Dead?

We learn that the problem is not company values existing, but a lack of understanding which values will be meaningful to your unique vision, and purpose and how to embed them. Fear not, if you are thinking about your current values or first time creating them, here are our top tips to either revive them and/or keep them alive.

1. Look back! Reflect on your purpose, mission, vision and capabilities 

As an example, let’s say you’re a FinTech with a purpose to support an unbanked and underbanked customer base in a region, your vision is to become the largest and most reliable FinTech platform, with a mission to accelerate the creation and distribution of a set of services. The capabilities that make sense to achieve this would be; understanding the customers better than anyone else, ability to grow fast and be diverse to become the largest, be consistent to become reliable, be speedy to enable others to accelerate, innovate and collaborate as a first mover is key too!

2. Carve out! The behaviours, mindset, and environment needed to create that capability

Based on the example above, this company is therefore likely to value (and require!); empathy (for customers and each other), speed, consistency, growth mindset, diversity, inclusion, collaboration, and out of the box thinking. This brainstorming can identify key themes to contribute to narrowing down the company values. 

3. Beware! Of the voices

Too many cooks really can spoil the broth for this exercise. The founder(s) are the key to these discussions as it means they become intentional when thinking about culture and hold themselves and others accountable for the environment they create. If you already have several teams, align top down with bottom up in a focused and controlled way. Be cognisant of the themes and words you are talking about most. It’s better to have fewer values that really mean something, than adding more for the sake of it.

4. Dress up! Clever wordsmithing and branding counts

Consumer psychology is a real thing. Find your wordsmith wizards within or get external help. Ensure they are brought to life with storytelling. If you have real examples to showcase this, even better. The power of branding and storytelling will make them memorable and support embedding them.

5. Practical Magic! Put in a practical plan

Build a plan to embed them across the company, team, and individual level. For example, ensure that they are discussed and threaded throughout new starter orientation and training. Create handbooks that reflect the language and ethos of your values. Include values based interviewing section to your candidate process. Design key communications explaining how company decisions aligned with values. Ensure values have high weighting when evaluating teams, improving performance, and discussing feedback.

6. No ghosting! Keep monitoring and recognise

As you roll-out your plan, keep listening to feedback and recognise those that are showcasing these behaviours the most. These team members will likely be the future champions for leading with values in times of crisis, conflict, and change down the line.

Values are still here to stay, but only if they reflect the company’s values. Here’s to building team spirit! 

More To Explore

So, you want to work in a seed start-up?

It’s interesting to see how quickly candidates realise this stage isn’t for them (which is perfectly fine). Below shares common exchanges we’ve had, so candidates