Corporate values: more than a flyer in the foyer?

Posted on August 17, 2017

Most organisations these days have corporate values, often with a vision or mission statement that is proudly displayed on their website and other marketing materials. In fact, a quick search of the 10 NSW Government clusters found that all had values published on their website or in corporate documents.

What is more difficult to determine is how genuine these values are, particularly as many of them have become so standard as to lose all meaning. For example, six out of the 10 clusters proclaimed the same four values: integrity, trust, service and accountability. How are they reflected in the behaviours of staff or the way the organisation operates? Unfortunately, there is often a disconnect between the values espoused by the organisation and the service experienced by the customer, which then calls into question everything else the organisation claims to deliver.

Whether you’re upfront about your corporate values or keep them buried in the annual report, it’s important to make sure they’re not simply copied from similar organisations or based on an idealistic impression of how staff behave. At Nexus, we start by asking some fundamental and challenging questions about your organisational values:

  • where did the values originate?
  • were they imposed on staff, or did staff have an opportunity to contribute?
  • how well known are the values across the organisation?
  • to what extent do the values describe what is, versus what ought to be?
  • what attempts have been made to embed the values in the organisation?

It’s important to tie your values into every area of the business, from planning and performance management to policies and processes. For example, what does ‘respect’ mean in daily practice? Does it mean responding to emails and turning up to meetings on time? Listening to others’ opinions and responding thoughtfully? Considering the language used when writing about customers? These behaviours may seem insignificant, but are critical to developing a culture of ‘respect’ across the organisation.

Of course, there is no point defining your organisational values unless people are held accountable to them, with rewards and sanctions that apply to everyone in the organisation. One of the fastest ways for staff to disengage is to make promises and not keep them. Creating values but not upholding them can make staff lose confidence in the leadership team and lead to reduced efficiency and morale across the organisation.

Nexus is currently working with a new NSW Government agency that is trying to shape its culture through shared values. Our work is helping the agency translate those values into specific behaviours that the team wants to see displayed in the workplace, as well as identify behaviours they don’t want to see. We’ve discussed how these desired behaviours can be reinforced and embedded into the operations of the organisation and, most importantly, how staff can be empowered to call each other out if their behaviour is incompatible with those values.

Nexus plays an important role in facilitating these discussions with staff and stakeholders, offering an independent voice that can break down silos and bring people together from all levels of the organisation. If you’re looking to make sure your corporate values are more than a flyer in the foyer, get in touch to find out how we can help.