While values are core to almost every brand and business, ‘living’ them requires consistent, concerted effort and commitment. Here are three ways to bring your values to life and off the page in 2020.

Company values help us define our ways of ‘being’ and ‘doing’ as a business or organisation. Done well, they can give employees, partners and customers alike a sense of agency, deep worth and connection. With more and more organisations taking up the challenge of being ‘values-led’, it is crucial that our values represent more than words on a page, and insteadguide and motivate our strategy, decisions, and behaviours.

Many of us have heard a variation of the adage: ‘you are on the outside what you are on the inside’. However, few of us would have stopped to consider that the opposite also holds true. When it comes to living your values, it is vitally important that you are on the inside what you say you are on the outside. We all know examples of companies and organisations who say they’re one thingyet do another inside their four walls (or virtual spaces!). Dissonance between a company’s values and their behaviours, whether unconscious or subconscious, can be kryptonite. With consumers, and even employees, becoming increasingly sensitive to corporate incongruence and emboldened to call it out, there has never been a better time to live your values with integrity both outside and in.

So, how do we do that?

After 15 years working with businesses, governments, and civil society organisations to articulate their purpose, core values and bring about greater organisational alignment, you could say that we’ve learned a thing or three about what it takes to bring your values to life. Whether you’re starting out on your values journey or looking to realign your company’s culture with the words on the wall, these three ways are a good place to start:

  1. Make your values doable and actionable

Our values help us articulate how we will go about achieving our vision, purpose and mission. They are designed to guide our actions and behaviours; direct and focus our attention; and communicate what we appreciate and recognise as good and important in the world. As such, they need to be doable and actionable. In practice, that means that your values need to indicate to you how to be and what to do, whatever the context.

Take ‘honesty’, for example. This is a common value we see in organisations. However, on its own, this word gives little guidance as to how to act in the plethora of situations your company faces every single day. Does it mean you’re going to tell your customer your profit margin? Or that your supervisor is going to broadcast to your colleagues that you’re not living up to expectations? Does it stop you from being dishonest, or imply that you have a problem being honest? Does it make you stand out in a crowded marketplace? These are some of the uncertainties that arise for both the company and its stakeholders when values are described in vague terms. The result is: your value is not actionable or doable. A pivot could be to ‘be honest when we make a mistake’. This simple, yet profound pivot activates the value and makes it both more doable and actionable.

Tip: Using stories about values in action to accompany your values definition can make your values clear and actionable. Try it with one of yours…we’d love to hear how you go!  

  1. Make your values tangible by having a story that helps guide behaviour and decisions

A key part of being able to live our company values is creating a shared understanding of what they mean, backed by examples and stories that make them more tangible, memorable and relatable. Is ‘courage’ one of your company’s values? Can you give an example of what that might look like in your context? Perhaps it looks like ‘standing up for what you believe in, even if it loses you business’ or ‘speaking truth to power no matter the cost’.

Undoubtedly, you have an excellent story to demonstrate it in your context. Maybe your Founder personified courage by not taking ‘no’ for an answer at a meeting with an MP, or a woman your company supported left a violent relationship and started her own business. Draw out an example or story to bring each value to life in your context. Then, use it to start communicating to your employees and the world who you are, what you stand for, and how you’re living those values.

Tip: It can be useful to think of behaviours or decisions that are in your ‘no-go’ zone if you were living your values as a way of helping you define what they mean to you. 

  1. Embed your values at all levels – from team meetings to product design

If we asked you to close your eyes and recite your company’s values, could you do it? It’s more common than you might think for employees not to be able to name their company’s values, let alone customers or other stakeholders. A pivotal part of bringing values to life and off the page is to embed them at all levels of your organisation.

Examples that we have come across include:

  • Gratitude and celebration: Seedbox created a Wall of Honour in a high traffic location to thank anyone in the company for their actions and behaviours. This can be tweaked to be around the practice of the values of the company.
  • Performance reviews: Atlassian, implemented an approach to performance reviews, with equal weighting given to: expectations of the role; contribution to the team; and demonstration of company values.
  • Values-driven leadership: PFW Aerospace, implemented a values-based turnaround of a failing company, restructuring all layers of leadership and management according to the levels of respectful behaviour towards employees, and implementing cross-department rewards in response to fostering unity and collaboration.
  • Values meetings: Resources for Human Development, hosts bi-monthly values implementation meetings across the organisation to raise challenges and opportunities for improvement related to the implementation of values in the workplace and / or suggest changes to their “Bill of Rights and Responsibilities”(Laloux, 2014).

Tip: Set aside some time in your next team meeting or check-in to come up with ways to practise your organisation’s values throughout your entire organisational system and watch as they start to come alive. Get creative! 

While these three ways to bring your company values to life are a great place to start, there are many more ways that you can ensure that your values are guiding decisions, practices and behaviours in your organisation.

The world is calling for more values and purpose-driven people and organisations who are committed to creating a more just and sustainable planet. So, how can you bring your values to life in 2020 and drive change forward?

We run a series of programs and workshops to help you build andrun a values-driven, noble enterprise. From identifyingand activating your unique values, to articulating your noble purpose, Barasa can help you take your business to the next level of impact in 2020.Get in touch or organise a consultation with Dimity here.