Does your company, or the company work for, have values? If you’re part of a large organisation, your values might be plastered all over the walls and boldly occupying the homepage of your website, all without you ever hearing mention of them during the day to day. If you’re a one-human-band, you may not feel like having a defined set of values is a priority for you at this stage in the game [unless you count your cat who could clearly use a few lessons in Collaboration and Teamwork]. I’ve worked with businesses on both ends of the spectrum, and for those who did have values? I can’t remember a single one.
So why bother? Well, company values don’t have to be the stuff of over-resourced and out-of-touch HR teams. At their best, your values serve not just as a message of what you stand for, but also as a unifier and shared goal for your team. In times of uncertainty [not that any of us would know anything about that right now… oh hey 2020], or in periods of rapid growth or when you’re forced to [forgive me for dropping the p word] pivot, a company’s values can act as an anchor point – the one thing that remains unchanged while everything else is in flux.
It’s a bit of an understatement to say that it’s been a big couple of years for TDP. Current global health crisis aside, TDP was already undergoing a bit of a cultural evolution. It’s not that we had a bad culture – the opposite actually, we are often commended for having a really amazing one – but we were growing, more quickly than we were prepared for, and protecting and fostering that culture was getting more challenging. In the early stages of a business it’s easy to get so wrapped up in bringing in the work, and then hiring to service that work that you forget that the people you hired… well, they work for you now. Okay I know how obvious that sounds, but I can say from experience that it’s easy to see only the immediate solution to a problem, rather than the long-term cultural implications of every person you hire.
So how do you safeguard your carefully cultivated culture [wow, try saying that ten times really fast]? You have to know who you are. As leaders, as a team, and as a company. For us, the first and most obvious step was to define, articulate and commit to living our values. It’s all well and good to have the values and to be serious about embodying them, but how do you take them off the nicely formatted page and into your workplace?
You can have them on all the stationery, hire a small plane to skywrite them outside the office window or tattoo them onto the forearms of your staff, but it’s all for nothing if nobody knows what they mean! We have a dedicated values document, accessible to all staff, where we dive deep into each one. Not like War and Peace style, just a page on each, but enough to explain and provide context for them. Along with a couple of lines explaining the meaning of the value, we also provide bullet points on what that value looks like for us, and then a paragraph with a TDP specific example of what living this value could look like day to day. There is little point in having lofty concepts if you haven’t clearly defined how you’re going to quantify them. Once we’ve made it clear what they look like, the next bit is equally important…
Call them out.
Defining and contextualising is only really half the process of truly operationalising them. To show staff what you want and expect of them from a values perspective, it’s all about that positive reinforcement. When you see somebody nailing Collaboration, or being the living embodiment of Integrity, shout it from the rooftops. It’s lovely, but in my opinion not enough, to mention it in passing or even just verbally at weekly meetings. To attach real meaning and well value to your values recognition, formalise it, record it and reward it. Which leads us to…
We bloody love a ritual. Not just TDP, but society in general. Rituals and traditions provide comfort and familiarity, yes, but they also convey importance. At TDP we kick off every WiP by talking about a fun challenge that relates to one of our values – this changes monthly – and then we launch into our CICCA awards. Oh, nobody mentioned the golden chicken in the room? Our values are Collaboration, Integrity, Commitment, Courage and Accountability – or CICCA [pronounced chicka, obvs!] so it follows that we should have a golden chicken trophy to be bestowed upon the lucky TDP’er to be consistently embodying our values that month. The chicken is silly, yep, and that’s why it works. It’s a ridiculous badge of honour, but it’s also recognition and it keeps our values front of mind.
For us, like most businesses, culture is an ever-changing and constant consideration. It’s also nuanced, and bloody hard to get right all the time. We know that along with working really hard to define and live our values, there are a thousand other tiny things required to foster a healthy culture. The perfect culture can’t be created by just whipping out a golden chicken, sure, but it can’t hurt, right?