In the last article we talked about mission statements. Often associated with these are 'values' but what are they, how are they different to missions statements and why do they matter?
Values, like mission statements have got something of a bad press over the years because they often simply spew platitudes like 'integrity' and 'quality' but Jack Welch, former CEO of GE derides such generalist approaches:
Give me a break - every decent company esposuses these things! And frankly, integrity is just a ticket to the game. If you don't have it in your bones, you shouldn't be allowed on the field.
So what are values, how are they different to the mission and how should they be crafted? Jack Welch:
A good mission statement and a good set of values are so real they smack you in the face with their concreteness. The mission announces exactly where you are going, and the values describe the behaviours thay will get you there.
How does this work in practice? Some years back, the bank JP Morgan Chase had a value that said, 'we treat customers the way we would want to be treated.' A great value for sure but they provided specific additional guidance around the value in saying:
What we can also say is that if the mission is the responsibility of top management, every employee can and should have a say in the values of the company. In the JP Morgan Chase example above, all employees can add value in helping define how customers can be treated fairly. Contrast that with the Wells Fargo disaster previosuly documented on this blog.
But if values still feel like something only big companies need to worry about, restaurateur Danny Meyer of Union Square Cafe fame disagrees. In his book Setting the Table he discusses values on 15 separate occassions such as when he says:
It’s the job of any business owner to be very clear as to the company’s non-negotiable core values. They’re the riverbanks that help guide us as we refine and improve on performance and excellence. A lack of riverbanks creates estuaries and cloudy waters that are confusing to navigate. I want a crystal-clear, swiftly flowing stream. Riverbanks need not hinder creativity, and in fact I leave plenty of room between the riverbanks for individual expression and personal style.
Within any organisation then, employees who want to rise to the highest levels should do five things:
There's another benefit to values, that is, they simplify your life by making decisions easier. If you are employing someone, or promoting them, asking the question 'does this person share our values?' will help shorten the list. When considering suppliers, again, you will consider 'do they share our values?' Britain's horsemeat food scandal happened because suppliers were selected on price, not values.
And values properly lived are good for business too. Meyer notes:
These days, more and more people want to do business with a principles they believe, not just with a company whose roast chicken and creamy polenta they find delicious. We’re the same way when choosing suppliers. At the outset, we make our own business values and goals very clear, and we try to understand theirs. We look for common ground, and we put a premium on integrity.
It's easy to assume that everyone in the organisation knows its values but often that is not the case. Most talk of the generic notions such as integrity that we have already placed in the 'must have anyway' bucket. Specific and mission aligned values help employees do their job better (in turn giving them greater satisfaction) and help the organisations achieve its targets which in turn generates profitabilty and so creates jobs and provides opporunities and job security for existing employees, a point again emphasised by Welch:
In annual surveys over a decade, employees would tell us that we were a company that increasingly lived its values. That made people even more committed to living them too. And as our employee satisfaction results improved, so did our financial results.
My view is that like the mission, values are not optional extras or something to dream up and then be left in the drawer. They are the basis for the way you and your employees behave every day. And that makes them critical.