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Using values to deliver sustainable results

Values are essential in this day and age when clarity is becoming a scarce commodity

Who you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you're saying. This infamous quote from Ralph Emerson beautifully captures leaders' challenges to guide effectively in this digital era. With constantly changing, newer, and more best-in-class approaches emerging every minute, organisations need to create an environment that silences the unwanted noise and provides clarity by embracing a values-driven culture.

When business conditions change, organisations without explicit values often observe how their once-winning formulas bring unforeseen failure. On the other hand, agile companies that quickly adapt and evolve while remaining true to their core values regularly win. In their book Corporate Culture and Performance, J. Kotter and J. Heskett show that value-driven corporations outperform their counterparts in stock price by a factor of 12.

Often referred to as 'fluffy', values are essential in this day and age when clarity is becoming a scarce commodity. While most leaders maintain that people are their most valuable asset, they often fall short of protecting this precious resource when it matters most and without using values as a guide.

While approaches such as communicating values, hiring based on values, and much more are key, the following strategies will further cement the role values play in providing clarity to deliver sustainable results to employees, communities, and other stakeholders.

Engage the workforce to make your value mean something

A 2015 Gallup report on the State of the Global Workplace found that 63% of employees were not engaged, and 24% were actively disengaged, leaving a mere 13% of workers who were committed to the work they do. Many leaders have, unfortunately, become immune to these types of headlines. Turning this around is not feasible with traditional change management approaches.

One way to address this is by carefully deploying values that align with what people do every day. For example, having integrity as a value will not mean much without a set of measurable behaviours. While one of Google's core values is 'do no evil', the application continues to deepen because its people understand the meaning and what it represents.

Adopt real-time measurement of return on corporate values

A second approach is to institutionalise a values dashboard to measure effectiveness and the overall application of the values in how employees engage with each other and the communities they serve. This month to month process should be very easy to utilise when managers, clients, and peers can almost instantly provide feedback on how employees are living the corporate values.

Xerox is an example of how companies can, in both healthy and challenging times, consistently embrace and ensure values remain at the center of everything they do. As Xerox’s CEO Anne Mulcahy puts it: “Living values is far from words on a piece of paper. Accompanying the company values are specific objectives and hard measures.”

Let the values influence strategic ambitions, not the other way around

One does not remove a house's foundation just because there is a need to expand a room. We may break a wall or two, but the foundation must stay intact for the house to remain a home. The same is true when establishing a set of core values as a foundation on which your company stands. So, in this digital world leaders must ensure that their company's foundation (its values) influences its strategic direction, and not the other way around.

Amazon provides one of the best examples of how sticking with corporate values can lead to exponential growth, from selling books to selling practically everything. Amazon continues to do this without changing its values but rather reinforcing and adapting them. Its focus on customer obsession, invention and simplicity, and on thinking big, continues to open doors to winning ventures.

Understandably, organisations are constantly changing and adopting new ways of addressing customer needs to stay ahead of their competition. While embracing change is key it must be supported with something that should rarely change – corporate values. Organisations that master paradox are positioned to be around for many years to come.

Simon Rey is group head of talent, learning and OD for the Ecobank Group