· Features

It's more important than ever to live your corporate values

Corporate values are the fundamental principles on which a company is based, governing the way it behaves with all its audiences - customers, suppliers, employees and the wider world.

These values shouldn't really change much over time ­- unless perhaps one company is taken over by another - because it is their stability that gives them their strength and power to make a company great. 

Research by Collins and Porras in the book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, showed that the key factor in enduring, great performing companies was a base of values that was strong enough to provide the employees of the company with a common bond - a purpose beyond profit.

It would appear, however, that UK companies are struggling to look beyond the purely commercial in 2009. According to the latest Corporate Values Index from global PR network ECCO International, there has been a dramatic shift in core values among UK companies since the survey was last undertaken in 2006.

Whereas environment was the number one value in the UK in 2006 - when the economy was booming and spirits were high - it has now slipped down to number six, along with social responsibility, which has dropped three places down to number seven.

Now innovation, integrity and customer satisfaction are the most popular values, as organisations strive to retain their customers under immense pressure. It seems that we are all concentrating on matters closer to home - our ability to demonstrate that we can consistently deliver innovative goods and services and that we are looking after our customers and our people first. 

What is of particular interest to HR professionals is the entry into the top 10 of the humanism value - relating to staff training and development, health and wellbeing.    While there have been widespread job losses and restructuring necessary as a result of the downturn, the message organisations seem keen to get across is that their businesses are stable and that those people who are still in jobs have vital roles to play and are being well looked after.

This is all clearly good news for employees and customers, but deeply concerning for the environment. Also concerning is the fact that companies appear to be so fickle when it comes to their corporate values, changing them on a whim to suit the times and no doubt compromising their original company vision in the process. 

As I see it, now is the time for companies to stay true to their vision, to be living their values and delivering what they promise. And for this to happen they need to take their employees with them. They need to be crystal clear about where the business is going and how their employees contribute to their success.

This involves maintaining a two-way communication flow at all times in order to remain close to staff and to understand their priorities. We should look for even more ways to hear their thoughts regularly - through forums, focus groups, regular staff meetings and appraisals - and to keep them updated on how the business is doing and what we need to do as a team to get through these difficult times.

Education is key to ensuring our people have the right skills to make our company vision a reality. As HR professionals we should be fighting to maintain training and development programmes and perhaps getting a little more creative with the delivery to ensure costs are kept to a minimum. In some cases it may be appropriate to move training out of the classroom and in to the community. For example, at NetworkersMSB, we have recently run a series of ‘Apprentice-style' challenges for trainees in conjunction with local businesses. These have cost only a few pounds but yielded a great return on our investment, with the majority of participants making significant sales shortly afterwards and all of them demonstrating better theoretical knowledge as well as a confident and more positive approach to work.

If we want to survive the recession and take our place among the UK's ‘great' companies we must bring our staff with us by retaining our core values and living them through the bad times as well as the good.

Emma Weston is head of human resources at global IT and telecoms consultants NetworkersMSB