How to use values to guide your business and workplace culture

Every workplace has values – they’re the principles and beliefs that guide the behaviour, decision-making and actions of a business and its employees. But some businesses are more intentional about their values than others.

Taking control of the values in your workplace means you can help to shape the culture and standards people live by while they’re at work, and the relationships your business has with its customers, employees and other stakeholders.

Why are values important?

“Values form the road map to guide our individual and collective behaviour,” says SEEK’s Resident Psychologist, Sabina Read.

Read says in a business or workplace setting, “values reflect what matters, the kind of behaviours that are expected, and they should also form the foundation for decisions that are made.

“Values provide a shared language so all employees can make choices knowing their thinking and actions are directed by a collective agreement for how to act, even during the most difficult times.”

The values that your business holds can also be crucial in attracting and retaining employees. Research for SEEK reveals more than half (57%) of New Zealand employees say they would be likely to quit a job if their employer’s values didn’t align with their own.

The importance of values is not lost on employers – 98% agree it’s important to communicate values to current employees and to candidates when hiring.

How to identify your workplace values

Before you can communicate your workplace values to your team, it’s important to know what they are.

“Many organisations (and individuals) may struggle to identify their values at first, but most of us know the agitation, frustration, disappointment, or resentment that arises when the values we hold most dear are ignored or breached,” says Read.

Looking to some of the most common values can be a good place to start. Read says there are hundreds of values that might be important to your business, “including curiosity, achievement, collaboration, integrity, responsibility, tolerance, innovation, empathy, fun, creativity, respect, authenticity, compassion, or trust.”

From here, Read recommends creating a long list or ‘menu’ of common values like these ones, then working with your team to choose the values that are most important to your business.

One way to help narrow things down is to ask each decision maker to select the three values that matter most to them, and explain why.

“This process is important and can help each of us with our own blind spots and identity and understand values we may have overlooked,” says Read.

How to communicate your workplace values

Once you’ve identified the values of your business, it’s important to ensure everyone knows what they are, and to use them, says career coach Alex Kingsmill from Upstairs Coaching.

“So many organisations pick some values, stick them on the wall and only ever refer to them in the annual report,” she says.

Kingsmill recommends weaving your values into as many of your processes as possible. For example:

  • Highlight your values in the hiring process. Using the terms in job descriptions and speak about them interviews. Your values can also help you assess the ‘fit’ of a potential new employee.
  • Make business decisions that are explicitly informed by your values.
  • Use the language of values in your team meetings.
  • Frame performance management around values.
  • Explicitly connect goals (individual, team, and organisational) to values.
  • Ensure leaders live the values, and publicly recognise when staff demonstrate those values.
  • Find opportunities to repeat the language of your values and to take action based on those values.

According to research for SEEK, the top ways people find out about your values when looking for a job are word of mouth/reputation (65%), your website (57%), and the interview process (47%).

What if there’s a misalignment?

Having workplace values and not living by them can cause problems, says Read, but honouring and rewarding your workplace values can go a long way.

“Whether values hide on the back of toilet doors or are framed proudly for all to see in public spaces matters less than whether they are honoured or ignored in day-to-day operations,” she says.

“When values are shared then overlooked, it can leave employees and stakeholders feeling cynical, demotivated, confused, deceived, and breed a culture of low trust. What matters most is that core values are clear and celebrated rather than just a shiny list of aspirational yet meaningless signposts that get driven past or knocked over when times get tough, or the pressure is on.”

And while clear workplace values are important, it’s also important to consider that people have their own personal values as well.

It's not uncommon for employees' values to differ from those of their workplace, says Kingsmill, and how problematic this is can depend on the degree of misalignment.

“If the value doesn’t feel like a great fit but it’s inoffensive, it will be a whole lot easier for the employee to stay on than if the value feels profoundly jarring,” she says.

“But if the organisation is deeply invested, it might be untenable .”

Ultimately, values are about deciding the principles and beliefs that matter most to your business and its people. By identifying your values and communicating them clearly and often, you’ll be helping to shape your workplace culture. What’s more, you’ll have a solid foundation to guide the way you act and make decisions as a business – in good times and bad.

Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually. Published March 2023.

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