13 ways to develop sustainable company values

Working towards commonly shared values across the workplace creates a vibrant culture

Thom Dennis, CEO of organisational transformation consultant Serenity in Leadership, explains how firms can adopt and develop sustainable values for business success.

Millennials are more likely to spend money with a company or consider joining their workforce if it has clear business ethics that align with their own or if the business shows corporate social responsibility or clear integrity.

These younger consumers are extremely important, not least because they have the loudest voices on social media, which they can choose to share at the click of a button. Some companies without a public profile, even if they are extremely large, have felt that lack of profile enables them to behave without a corporate social responsibility conscience, but this is changing.

Developing sustainable values

Clear, strong company values which represent the beliefs and principles that drive the business are becoming ever increasingly important, whether they are aligned with some or all of the sustainability factors including ecology, fairness, equality, inclusion, diversity, innovation, respect, integrity, passion, or respect for the work/life balance and family.

Company values guide the actions of an organisation and characterise its brand, promote employee engagement, unite the workforce, boost competitive advantage and the bottom line, and ultimately shape an organisation’s culture, vision, and business strategy.

For those that are starting out, here are 13 tips on developing sustainable values in your business:

  1. Involve everyone. Whilst the core values of a business tend to reflect the morals and beliefs of the company’s founders, offering the opportunity to all colleagues, employees, suppliers and customers to share what is important to them and then working towards a collaboration of common values creates a vibrant culture-rich workplace. Empower, involve and also delegate to others.
  2. Values are not slogans or token ideas. Values need to be fully integrated into all day to day operations, through leadership, the hiring process, website, intranet and processes throughout the company. They need to be visible and deeply ingrained into work culture including the business’s vision and mission statement. Ben & Jerry’s values for example focus on social and economic justice, human rights and dignity, and environmental protection and those values are visible at all levels.
  3. Show commitment and longevity to the cause. Uphold these values by consistently providing updated training and development opportunities to staff which directly reflect your company values. Integrating these values throughout the hiring process encourages new employees to commit to the company from the outset. Do this by ensuring new employees read the company’s purpose and mission statement, and they are talked about, challenged and reinvigorated.
  4. Be transformative even if it’s hard or a lot of work at the start. Identify barriers and seek to eliminate them. The Body Shop was a pioneer in selling make-up, haircare and body products inspired by nature and ethically made, and continue to be vocal about protecting our planet, being actively against animal testing, supporting Fairtrade and defending human rights, even under their new ownership.
  5. Operationalise your values. Leaders in companies may have values, but do they always translate into desired behaviours? If senior leaders are not living the espoused values, it creates cynicism and a huge resistance to change. You have to walk the talk and reinforce the desired behaviours.
  6. Be an ambassador and ally. When colleagues see you implementing and practising company values, they are more likely to replicate your behaviour, reinforcing these throughout the company culture. Allow people to ask questions and encourage dialogue so they are more likely to get on board. Identify influencers, energisers and blockers, and remove the blockers.
  7. Be transparent. Every good business should have values that are simple and easy to understand. They need to be aligned and to underpin the company’s purpose. These values should also be congruent with the goals of your organisation even if these are profit driven. Communicate your values regularly and show how working with the purpose is so important.
  8. Be accountable. Live by your words in every aspect of your business from your suppliers to your team, to your customers. Although perhaps dented by their acquisition by Amazon, Whole Foods still strive to promote team member growth and happiness, care about their communities and the environment, and offer a price win-win partnership with suppliers.
  9. Develop and deploy a listening strategy. Organisations that set themselves up to really understand their workforce are the ones that will be successful in the coming years. Employ various pulse methods regularly (monthly or weekly even) to hear what your people are thinking and feeling – technology and AI are advanced today and can facilitate getting to the real issues. Amazon for instance have been asking a question a day such as: “Is your manager a simplifier or a complexifier?”
  10. Reward team success. Company values can act as goals for your entire team and are best achieved through a joint effort. Whilst it is important to celebrate individual achievement (and typically we do it far too little), rewarding team success should be a priority to create cohesion and harmony amongst employees.
  11. Become a B Corporation. Certified B Corps are a new kind of business that balance purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. This is a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using businesses as a force for good.
  12. Genuine diversity and inclusion promotes individuality. A healthier working environment, new thinking and respect, and unites us, and is a must have as part of any set of company values in the modern day.
  13. Review and evolve. Your values should grow with your company. It is important to review and update your values especially when your company is given new opportunities or encounters new challenges. This maintains transparency and authenticity and encourages the organisation to stay up to date.

Thom Dennis is CEO of organisational transformation consultant Serenity in Leadership.

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