Authors Note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn in May 2017. We are re-visiting this as it is a timely article for any business looking to start of the new year with a strong foundation.

While values are the anchor point for the way we operate as individuals and as businesses, we need ensure that we are also developing actionable behaviours. This ensures a level of accountability that is measureable and transparent.
If you’re a CEO, business owner or someone looking to achieve a higher level of productivity in your team, this article is a good starting point.
Business leaders love to talk about company values. They put them on websites, frame them, place them prominently in boardrooms and proudly tout them at company meetings. However when you ask employees about their company values, they don’t often know them, rarely ‘live and breathe’ them and usually don’t quite understand how to achieve them. Values by definition, are a belief, or to be exact “principles or standards; one’s judgement of what is important in life or business”. Fantastic in theory, but all too often, values are little more than workplace window dressing.
Key stakeholders, including employees, customers and partners are either completely unaware of what the stated values are or don’t believe that they ring true. In some cases, corporate talk about values amounts to no more than a joke. Words on a wall that tick a PR box. And in some organisations, their corporate values are viewed as counterproductive false flags that may further inflame feelings of division, cynicism and hypocrisy.
In my profession, I’m fortunate to be able to travel the world assisting a community of employee engagement advisors and their clients in advancing employee engagement, leadership, culture and morale. When I enter a new client’s business premises for the first time, I like to surprise the business owners (though I always give my coaches the heads up). It’s the only way I can ensure I get a true and authentic take on the heartbeat of an organisation at all levels, and it allows me to see how healthy they really are culturally. As soon as I walk in I heighten my senses. I look for visual cues, how people communicate, the noise level, and most importantly how I feel (since culture is a feeling and an energy).
On a recent trip, I approached the reception area of a new client and I was immediately overwhelmed by the most magnificent, glossy and colourful signboard touting the company’s values. Strategically situated right there behind the reception desk, and obviously designed to create a good impression and let customers know they mean business! Ok, I thought, this looks interesting.
I stood patiently at the desk whilst the receptionist talked into her headset to someone on the phone, and I was not greeted with any sort of eye contact or acknowledgment. I patiently waited in the same position for what felt like an eternity until I was finally glanced at and somewhat abruptly asked, ‘who are you here to see’? I politely replied and was then asked with a hint of annoyance ‘are they expecting you’? ‘Yes’ I said. ‘We have a 2.00pm appointment’. ‘He won’t be long’ she said gruffly. And that was it. No direct eye contact. No smile. No invitation to sit.
I re-read the company values:
  1. People are at the heart of our success.
  2. Superior customer service.
  3. Innovation
  4. Integrity
  5. Community
‘So ironic’ I thought. My experience thus far had felt like the complete opposite, and I wondered whether others in my shoes had been left feeling annoyed and disappointed after seeing these blazoned values and then experiencing something so far from it.
For me these company values further highlighted this company’s failings, and where they were going wrong. You see, in my experience, when it comes to employee engagement, company values are usually little more than meaningless words on a wall. This employee (the receptionist) was clearly disengaged, disinterested and disillusioned with her work place, and for her it seemed these values were meaningless. After walking around the office observing other employees, it became obvious that she was not the exception, she was the norm.
When I ask a company employee (not an executive) to list their company values, 8 out of 10 will head to the wall space where the values are on display to recite them. Most employees don’t know their values. And why do you think this is?
If we were to put a survey out to research how many people were living and breathing their company’s values, it would be a waste of time. You often can’t answer with surety because you can’t tangibly measure your day to day actions and keep yourselves and others accountable against most company values. You can’t make them a KPI. This is a huge opportunity missed.
So, what are values really? They’re the end product of what the company wants to achieve and how they wish to be perceived, but surely this is a case of the cart before the horse? How do we get the end product? And what could we better replace these values with?
The answer is ‘Behaviours’. Simple, steadfast behaviours that are designed by your people for themselves. Employees are far more likely to embrace and uphold their company ‘behaviours’ if they can easily measure themselves and others against them every day.
Here’s an example of behaviours that are measurable every day:
  1. Support Each Other
  2. Honesty
  3. Respect
  4. Common Sense
  5. Fun
The newer generations see through the fluff and hypocrisy of old school corporate jargon. To them corporate values often fall into this category. The problem is that values are easy to write down, but are often hard to live up to. So, what begins with a sincere effort ends with a checklist of virtues that don’t reflect reality.
Behaviours are more tangible and measurable and they should be developed and customised for each individual department or team.
The quickest way to create a high-performance team is to create equality. This in turn creates unity and trust, allowing truth to emerge. Empower your people to choose their own standards and behaviours, and ensure they hold themselves and each other accountable with regular, open and honest, respectful communication.
This takes an enormous amount of day-to-day pressure off the business leader, and what great leader doesn’t want that? Total ownership, empowerment and buy in.
Most senior business leaders proudly tout their executives chosen values, yet only 13% of the worlds employees are engaged at work. Clearly, it’s time to evolve….
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About the Author
Richard Maloney is quickly becoming known as the worlds no. 1 team engagement expert as he leads over 250 coaches in 70+ countries. He is disrupting the L&D, HR and sports psychology industries with his bold statement: Traditional training is dead. Richard is also the author of ‘The Minds of Winning Teams – Creating Team Success Through Engagement & Culture’.