Values Matter But To Be Real They Must Be Lived

17/10/2016 12:39

Values matter. They can drive behaviours and performance in businesses, co-operatives, social enterprises, charities, community groups, the public sector and indeed individuals. They differentiate between and tell us much about both organisations and individuals.

Values are about more than some words on a poster, on a web site, in a chief executives peroration, in a customer, user, or citizen charter, or in a CV. They have to be lived and they have to be authentic. Indeed, I would contend that perhaps the most important value is to be authentic but that alone is not enough. In his own way, Hitler was authentic and I expect even Donald Trump is but few of us would hold either of these very different individuals up as beacons of the values to which we aspire to.

Individuals and organisations need to adopt a cocktail of values and it is the combination of these that will define them.

Many 'socially-driven' organisations are likely to have values based on authenticity, integrity, honesty, equity, fairness, solidarity, transparency, accountability, and user/customer centricity. They may have more and together, they will define what these values mean for their particular organisation; and how they live them and demonstrate through day to day actions that they are more than mere words.

Of course, it is not only 'socially-driven' organisations that will spend time considering and developing their values. Many major corporates, small companies, the public sector and political organisations do so too. Businesses may not have precisely the same values as a social sector organisation and/or they may have a different interpretation and application of similar values. That said, I suggest that businesses (whether large or small, global or local) would be better businesses, better employers, better corporate citizens and have better results if they were to adopt and live values much closer to those listed in the previous paragraph than those that don't. Fortunately, enlightened companies generally recognise this.

No serious-minded organisation can be values free. To be so risks operating outside of ethical/legal/humanitarian frameworks, opening the organisation up to legal, public, PR and reputational challenge - and potentially, even threatening its viability.

Values are a powerful influence on attitudes and behaviours, and performance too. Get behaviours right and a business is more likely to achieve sustainable outcomes than if they don't have the right behaviours, which are underpinned by the corresponding values.

This is why "Values - how to bring values to life in your business" by Ed Mayo (Greenleaf Publishing)" is so timely and a 'must read' for leaders and influencers in every sector. As one might expect from any book that has been typed on Ed's key board, the phrases quite literally 'shout out' at the reader, and makes her or him pause and question their own value set. And more importantly, how far they live up to the values they would claim to hold. Ed's own values and commitment to a value based world come across strongly and are thankfully contagious.

The book draws on a range of international case studies, including 'for profit' and 'not for distributive' businesses and co-operatives. Ed makes the case that having the right values and ethics should and can become the natural way for all businesses. I would merely add that logic suggests this applies equally to charities and public sector bodies - none of whom can necessarily be assumed to be 'perfectly formed' at all times.

Ed draws a good and useful distinction between soft and harder values. He explains how an organisation can develop its values and test whether they are appropriate and, perhaps as importantly, being 'lived' on a daily basis. He has useful advice on how personal and corporate values relate. He describes five tools for developing and embedding values including ensuring that they: drive governance in ways that are consistent with exemplar governance and the organisation's values; are built into supply chains; and are readily understood by internal and external stakeholders.

Time and investment should be given to identifying, defining, refining, disseminating and testing both the application of, and adherence to values. Critically, this should be integral to other business planning and activities, and not some 'add on' or 'nice to have'.

Every organisation in every sector at every stage of its life should have a clear purpose and values-based operations, governance, performance management and external community engagement. These values have to be demonstrable, and any organisation, or indeed individual, that fails to match their behaviour with their stated values will simply and inevitably demonstrate that integrity and honesty are not some of their values.

It is no good charities or businesses and public sector bodies claiming to be 'values driven' when they are not, or simply saying that because of what or who they are, they are automatically driven by the right values (sadly, this 'get out of jail' card is prone to be deployed way too often - especially by those who should know better). Values have to be nurtured, espoused, lived and tested to be meaningful if an organisation or individual is to have any serious integrity.

With the public debate and demand for more responsible capitalism plus the need to strengthen public confidence in charities, the wider social sector and the public sector generally - this book offers some challenging but never-the-less practical ideas on how to embrace a 'values-based' culture. So many positives will flow once such a culture is articulated, established, lived and indeed loved - not just by leaders but everyone involved in and with a 'values-based' organisation.

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