Towards the end of 2012 I was working with organisations and teams to create shared purpose and values because they wanted to make a fresh start in 2013. Purpose and values are vital in creating employee engagement (to the team and the organisation) because they take what people do day to day and connect that work to something meaningful. Most people want to feel that what they do adds value – they want to make a difference. A clear purpose sets the direction, and articulated values provide the guidance on how we behave, what criteria we use to make decisions and so on.
Purpose is the fundamental reason the organisation exists. It provides the connection people make between their work and the overall direction of the organisation. It frames what the organisation does in a meaningful way. A high level of purpose predicts strong organisational focus.
- When it is clear, people are connected to the organisation’s direction.
- When it is clear, work has meaning.
- When it is clear, people feel they are making a difference to something they consider to be important & worthwhile.
It is equally important for teams to have a clearly articulated purpose, the “why do we exist as a team”.
Whatever your purpose, it must be meaningful, emotive and motivating. Rarely are purpose statements only about profit or shareholder value.
For example: the purpose statement for an HR group used to read “appropriately managing the human capital assets of our business to provide the greatest organisational value”. Sounds sensible, but did it provide an emotive connection? Not so much. After a day with the team exploring their purpose, the new statement was “ensuring that our people are safe, motivated, skilled and enabled to do their very best work”. The team felt an emotional connection to this statement – it provided the meaning behind what they did day-to-day. It doesn’t matter if others don’t like it, it means something special to the team.
Another group I worked with started with “we strive to achieve our KPI’s and targets and work together in order to maintain customer and stakeholder satisfaction and to maintain the revenue stream”. After a workshop, the purpose they connected with was “to provide the best possible customer experience”. Again, emotive and meaningful for that team.
Shared values and behaviours are also important. They are the guiding principles of your business, the basic convictions about what is appropriate and inappropriate. They set your business apart from others by clarifying its identity.
- When they are clear people are clear about how to behave towards each other, the customers and the public.
- When they are clear, they provide a framework for managing your people – they should be part of recruitment, performance development, criteria for promotions and other HR processes.
- When they are clear, they can be tough – organisations that are passionate about their values will make challenging and often uncomfortable decisions based on them.
Without organisational values and behaviours you are accepting an “anything goes” culture, although you will have accidental values established in your culture by virtue of your policies and leader behaviours.
Defining your values is a process that cannot be rushed. Your values need to be special and meaningful for your business and your market. Most businesses will have something about valuing customers, teamwork and quality. Think about how you do this that makes your offering different?
Explore how you demonstrate what you value. I ask “So you tell me you value your clients? Prove it to me? What do you do, say and provide that shows me this”? Often what comes to light is that what businesses tell me they value is not backed up by action. An organisation I worked with recently said “If we really valued our clients we would have better signage so they could actually find us and we wouldn’t leave them in an unmanned reception space without chairs”. It was a huge eye opener for them. Obvious maybe, but not previously considered.
Be clear about the difference between core values and aspirational values. Core values actually exist and aspirational values are yet to be (Like my example above where valuing clients turned out to be an aspirational value). It is ok to have a mix of both as long as you are clear about which are aspirational and how you are intending to move them to being core.
Once you have defined your values, bring them to life. Embed them in everything you do. Defining behaviours at the organisational, group and team level is a way of doing this – behaviours are the values in action.
Defend your values, act on them and align your people to them. From the start of a recruitment process to the last day they work for you, employees should have no doubt that core values drive everything the business does.