Moving Your Culture From "Meh." to "Yeah" - Part 3 - Embedding
Updated: Nov 12, 2021
In parts 1 & 2 of this series, we discussed the importance of words and transference of ownership to your people when creating and launching your Company Values as you attempt to move your company culture from “Meh.” To “Yeah!”
In part 3 we take a look at the whole point of undertaking the challenge in the first place. That’s embedding your Company Values and reaping the benefits of having them by creating a place where people love what they do, who they do it for and with, and feel like they can be their personal best, every day.
In my experience, the business world is littered with too many examples where this last, important phase fell short. Leaving behind murals, booklets, and mouse mats full of inspiring words that never got any action or traction. Failure to embed your Values into the everyday beliefs, behaviours, and actions of your business is a waste of all the energy and enthusiasm that crafted them in the first place and of your potential to perform at a different level. So why do so many businesses fall at this hurdle, and what can you do to avoid the same fate?
Here’s something I hear all too often, “Too many Values exercises fail because people can’t remember them all.” Have you seen the list and detail in the highly successful and praised Netflix Cultural Values? That suggests it’s really not about the number of values you have. Successful company values go way beyond just remembering them. It’s about showing your long-term commitment to them. It’s about living them, every day. We’re not talking about the veneer of commitment in Love Island terms here either; we’re looking for much more than that.
There are 3 main reasons the embedding phase fails, in my experience, and they are, in general, a lack of action, measurement, and consequence (which you could also call “commitment”). These three factors work very closely together and often overlap, but in this article, I try to tackle these topics one-by-one in an attempt to help you better anchor your core values in the DNA of your business and use them to great effect and success in the future.
“Future” is an apt word. However you dress this up, you are dealing with a cultural change here. Whether you’re in full-blown transformation mode or looking at some cultural renovation, this kind of change requires and deserves a long-term commitment. It’s going to take time for people to see these things happen consistently and inspire them to make a permanent change themselves. If you are expecting overnight, embedded success, you are setting yourself up for a fall. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make an impact right from the get-go. You can certainly create a positive impact from the start, and hopefully, this article will give you some tips, but getting long-term, sustainable results is about showing long-term commitment. That starts from the top and starts with actions.
I’m generally a big fan of John Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model. It lays out the simple, chronological steps leaders should take to establish successful change. In most cases, it works. I like to sprinkle a large handful of emotional connection and engaging communication over it, but as a map it makes sense. However, the top step simply states, “Incorporate Changes Into Culture”. That’s quite a simplification of a challenging step to achieve. It’s the “how” part of that, that many businesses struggle with and in this case, we are trying to change the culture!
From a leadership perspective, I recommend the first place to start in delivering the top step is actually to take a step back to “Never Let Up.” Your new values will never survive long-term if the leadership in the business do not continue to talk about, espouse and importantly, show best practice delivery of them and the importance of them, after the initial launch. This isn’t a 3 to 6-month job either. This is always. Your values are a pillar of how we do things around here and the behaviours that the organisation show play a huge role in creating your culture. They set the tone. The actions prove the case. That’s a forever-thing, not a design, launch, watch, pat on the back, move on scenario. If you don’t constantly represent the change you seek, your people will pay equal notice to it and you will fail to change.
But it is not just about leadership action. You’ve got to create a movement. In part two we talked about the cultural change momentum curve. The best way to create a movement is to find those innovators and early adopters and involve and empower them to get things moving. Have them form part of your “Values Squad”. Hold regular Values-Checkpoints to see how things are going. Champion and communicate the successes, address the issues head-on, show that you are listening, and change is happening and important. You will only gather momentum and hit the tipping point as more employees in the early majority group see the change happening and witness people using the values consistently.
It’s an old, over-used phrase but, “What gets measured, gets done” has usually played out to be true. Measurement in this topic covers a few different areas. There’s the measurement of cultural change as a whole, which is a whole other conversation, but important, and there’s the day to day recognition of using the Values and measuring their effect on people and business performance. That’s what we’re going to focus on.
Any measurement of culture, and specifically Values, is initially really hard to quantify. You are often dealing with intangibles and inherently these can be difficult to understand, measure, score and correlate an ROI for. If I was going for an overall assessment of culture though, I’d use a mix of Passion, Effort, Advocacy, Engagement and Thriving metrics to produce an overall picture of cultural health and performance.
To really begin to embed your Values in the day-to-day lives of your employees they and the associated behaviours should form part of your formal employee reviews, as well as the more traditional performance measures. But measurement shouldn’t be limited to end of year reviews. These are fast becoming an outdated way of managing and developing your people. What level of importance are you signalling if you just talk about the Values once a year? Not much.
When it comes to the measurement of your Values and the adoption and use of them specifically, I favour a much more simple, regular, practical, tangible approach. Using the witness, evidence, feedback and report model in 121’s is a great way to start for managers and their teams to openly discuss how the company Values are working in everyday scenarios. They can both talk about great examples they’ve seen in others, they can evidence their own behaviour and talk about the good and the bad aspects of that and record the best next actions required. The regularity of these conversations will help ensure there are a constant measurement and level of importance put on the Values and will keep them and the associated behaviours in front of mind.
The metric with the biggest effect on how well your values and behaviours are embedded in your organisation is actually “importance”. The more important you make them; the more employees will see that and take action accordingly. So, as leaders, what level of importance are you attaching to them and how are you showing that?
I believe the level of importance you allocate to your Values and show your employees, will directly correlate to the success you have in embedding them in your business. This works directly with the action factor, as what you do will have a much more profound effect than what you simply say. A crucial part of fostering the genuine engagement of your employees is developing a strong sense of trust. If they hear you say that your Values are important and they see you consistently deliver against that statement, you will earn their trust.
One of the best ways to manage trust in this scenario is to recognise and reward excellence. Recognising excellent behaviour in line with your Values will show that you put just as much importance in them as you do other performance metrics that get recognised. How you choose to do that can also multiply the benefits.
Feedback to individuals on a topic like this has more impact on trust when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met or in this case, the behaviour has been witnessed. It’s even more powerful when it comes from peers, is tangible, unexpected, personal and public. So, as well as leaders and managers recognising excellence in the moment, really great companies in this field also operate peer recognition awards, where colleagues call out the top examples of people living the Values and the winners are recognised and rewarded in front of all their peers.
Now, it’s relatively easy to celebrate successes, but without wishing to sound negative, perhaps the greatest show of importance is to show that there are consequences of poor or non-delivery. I have mentioned the Performance Values Matrix, featured in Ken Blanchard’s “Gung Ho!” in a previous article, but I passionately believe actioning this is one of the things that separates long-lasting, great company cultures from mediocrity and failure. Those businesses that would terminate a great “performer” in the traditional sense, say, someone who always hits their numbers, but who doesn’t display the Values or behaviours of the business, is showing a long-term commitment to them. Turning a blind eye to that because of financial or technical performance undermines the very point of having them in the first place and will create long-term damage to the business. Rewarding the good and sanctioning the bad is an important balance to strike when trying to embed your Values.
If you’re not going to use them to guide the business and help it and the people in it to make difficult decisions, why have them? If you have enough foresight to use them to hire the right candidates who fit with your culture, why wouldn’t you also use them to fire those that don’t? If you don’t take action against the negative behaviour that goes on you are ultimately encouraging it, by saying nothing.
In the end, the best way to have a set of Values embedded in your company is to have a set that will help the business act in the way it needs to, to be successful and that creates actions and behaviours that your employees value and help them be the best they can be in their jobs, every day. In that scenario, everybody wins. So, if you’re sitting there looking at your Company Values and are confident you hit all these things, more power to you. But, if you’re just starting out, or not happy with how things are going and think it’s time for some renovation, hopefully, this “Meh. To Yeah!” mini-series has given you some food for thought on how to make improvements and reap the associated benefits.