These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest Employee Relations & Engagement Think Tank (ERTT) held on Thursday 5th February 2015 hosted by Thames Water’s Tanya O’Doherty (Employee Relations and Engagement Manager) titled ‘Meeting Long-term Commercial Goals through an Innovative Approach to Defining Vision and Values’.
The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR and ER professionals from leading national and international businesses. Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.
For many businesses there comes a time when a drastic change in strategy is required to meet the evolving demands of the industry in order to continue to lead a successful commercial business. This reality is true for a huge number of organisations who work in either regulated industries or highly competitive markets where remaining ahead of the curve is essential.
So how can HR truly partner with the business and support with increasing organisational effectiveness? Often a good place to start involves taking a look at your workforce to understand if it’s currently embodying the behaviours and values required for your company to be successful. What’s clear is that employees tend to sit on the fence when it comes to deciding if they ‘like’ working for an organisation. Therefore, it’s the employer’s job to convince them, and understand what is driving them to perform.
It tends to be much more difficult to ignite this kind of change if the business isn’t under direct threat from competitors or facing a ‘cliff edge’, which is why it’s crucial to be completely clear what the business drivers are upfront. The buy-in for change can also be more challenging to secure if the senior leadership team have been in place for a long period of time, as their views can be more insular and they will often be more reluctant to transformation.
How can you develop a set of values that are relatable?
Traditionally when an organisation takes the decision to redefine their company values, it’s an exercise that gets undertaken by the Executive population, the Board and HR committee. However, in order for the new values to be relatable the process needs to involve as many members of the business as possible. Getting all employees involved in the consultation process to help define the messaging makes it more ‘real’, and naturally more easy to identify with. A set of values designed by employees, for employees.
How can you develop a set of values that actually mean something?
During consultation with employees, businesses will typically find that whilst the opinions and challenges of staff are articulated differently, generally people share the same frustrations and wants. It’s all about interpretation and understanding how each employee will be able to identify with any newly defined values in their own environment. If the language is too corporate and ‘business focused’ it becomes unrelatable. How can people be expected to live and breathe a new set of values if they don’t understand what they mean? What seems to work well is defining a simple set of overriding company values that are intended as guidance for departmental managers to define their own relevant behaviours.
How can you engage the workforce on your values journey?
Redefining company values is no light undertaking and often businesses will need the help of a professional consultancy to support with the execution, delivery and communication of the project. Often it’s better to enlist a totally objective set of eyes who can help uncover exactly what the business needs. Documenting the values journey via a series of videos that capture the reasons behind the initiative, how it affects the staff, any team collaboration workshops and the overall outcomes, can be a really powerful way to sustain momentum throughout the process. It’s also an opportunity to showcase ‘real’ people in the business, as opposed to giving more ‘air-time’ to the senior leadership team. After all it’s being lead by the employees, for the employees. Avoid mentioning HR at all costs!
How can you effectively consult and communicate with remote workers?
Communicating with non-office based staff on any business initiative can be challenging as these workers typically aren’t as accessible as those sat behind a desk. Therefore, physically visiting the site of your remote workers to personally consult with them (and then later present back) in their own environment has to be the most effective way. Whilst it’s very time intensive, if you want the input and support from these individuals then it’s imperative to show them how much their opinions are valued in this process.
How can you ensure your values are being lived and breathed by the workforce?
One of the main ways to embed new values into a business is via the appraisal process to ensure they’re being embraced and reflected in behaviour. However, it’s worth noting that internal behaviours will generally have to be tweaked to allow the new values to shine through. It’s also worth ensuring that your customer facing contractor population are totally on-board with what’s now expected of them when dealing with clients.
Adapting the recruitment process to make sure it’s reflective of the new values you’re recruiting against is another essential element of the embedding process. For new employees, instilling values from day one is the only way you can expect them to be truly embraced.
Furthermore, weaving self-nominated, high potential ‘engagement partners’ into pockets of the business can really help with driving engagement and also help with the early identification of unengaged individuals / groups of employees.
When it comes to measuring the impact of a values initiative there are some key questions that can be asked to help evidence success:
- Can I demonstrate a clear line of sight back to my initial objectives and what tangible evidence supports them?
- How can I link my engagement survey to my new values initiative to help illustrate success?
- What correlation can I find between my top performers and most engaged members of staff?
- When should I start measuring the success of my initiative to illustrate maximum impact?
- What impact have my new values had on our business’s customer satisfaction scores?
- Can I correlate my internal staff survey with my external satisfaction survey to demonstrate success?
- Have the new values had a positive impact on the bottom line and have they therefore contributed to my business’s sustained commercial success?
Whilst the business is going to be much more interested in understanding the answers to the questions raised above, often it’s the more anecdotal insights that you acquire along the way which will make the biggest difference to sustaining engagement in the long-run. These insights will help HR with things like rewarding success more appropriately and understanding the drivers behind top performance.