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Company values: how to get them right (and make them work for you)
It was back in 2010 that I first did a company values exercise. I didn’t think it would offer too much added-value to the business after all our vision was clear cut and our teams already highly efficient.
But it was the 2000s – the years the dot.com bubble burst, the Enron scandal broke, and corporate governance was in the spotlight as never before. Everybody was all over corporate values, so we were too.
‘We’ being the executive team of Tidy Files. Back then, Tidy Files had just been bought out by Private Equity, and a team had been appointed to solidify our positioning and grow the company.
A fundamental building block of crafting company values that have any merit is brevity. The shorter the better (and the easier to remember, which is a critical success factor when it comes to creating values that pack a punch).
With this in mind, we used our keyword TIDY, and crafted our values around that: Tenacity, Integrity, Driven, You. They spoke to our team’s ability to pursue creative solutions against all odds, to build trust, to remain committed and to take ownership for individual behaviour.
They might sound simple, but they worked. Between 2010 and 2017 Tidy Files went on to become a leading provider of paper-based and electronic filing and storage solutions in South Africa.
Our values were not fancy buzzwords we stuck up on the wall to look good. They were standards to which we continuously held ourselves. Guidelines to which we defaulted when the question didn’t have an obvious answer. And inspiration to keep doing things better than the day before. They were business tools.
I’ve just come out of another round of formulating corporate values, this time for Tidy Files’ associate company, Cleardata.
These values look different to those I contributed to 10 years ago: We own it. We are different. We are committed to growth.
Although they occupy a more contemporary positioning, the core function behind Cleardata’s values today remains the same as those of Tidy Files more than a decade ago. That is, they are set of beliefs that help guide the employee experience in driving the business forward.
This recent process reminded me of the true power of company values. For those companies that seriously put their weight behind identifying, proactively promoting and living by their corporate values, the rewards can be significant.
Despite this, so many companies still get it wrong.
Firstly, creating corporate values all too often amounts to little more than mundane check-boxing exercises executed merely for the sake of doing it. Without strategic thought and intent, a values exercise means nothing.
Secondly, the values identified are often based on fashionable ideals that will fall off Twitter’s trending list before the year is out. Identifying values should be a collaborative team effort based on authentic employee experiences and aspirations.
Thirdly, company values are often forgotten, relegated only to prime positions on the reception area and boardroom walls. Corporate values are not bragging rights aimed at your customers; they’re roadmaps for employee behaviour. More than only displaying them in employee workspaces, they must be adopted as living guidelines that act as golden threads throughout the business.
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