Creating and sustaining shared values

Black businesswoman day dreaming while working among her colleagues in the office.

Shared values can lead to increased customer loyalty, higher employee retention and increased profitability. Sophie Ransome, Head of HR at Atalian Servest looks at how to develop and embed them into organisations

The idea of ‘shared values’ has received much greater focus of late, with the term being included on more and more company websites or job descriptions. Shared values can certainly link to organisational goals, but that’s not the purpose of them. While ‘company values’ relate directly to an organisation’s approach to its bigger mission and vision, ‘shared values’ relate more to those priorities that shape a business’ ethos, culture and CSR.

It is well understood that shared values in the workplace lead to stronger social connections, which in turn have been found to boost productivity. These connections occur when employees are fully aligned with the company culture and it is truly embedded, building on the organisation’s overall purpose. Employees are a company’s greatest asset, so engendering a workplace and team with shared values will undoubtedly bring significant benefits.

Tackling social issues

Shared values have been identified as a way for businesses to tackle social issues that matter to their employees. Ensuring diversity and inclusion in business practices is a key example. For us, it’s important to recognise the importance of actively listening and learning from everyone across the business – effective change isn’t possible without fully understanding the backgrounds, experiences and feelings of our colleagues.

Last year, we launched CHROMA, a platform made up of three key networks: Physical and Mental Health; Race, Ethnicity and Faith; and LGBTQ+ – each of which is driven by colleagues. It was formed to give all colleagues a voice, promote individuality and empower individuals to shape not only their future but also that of our business and the wider industry of facilities management.

The success of CHROMA comes from it being a fully inclusive platform, one that our colleagues want, and are able, to engage with at all levels of the business. It helps to create an environment where our people have the authority and confidence to put forward ideas on how we, as an organisation, can be better.

Continual improvement

The idea of continual improvement underpins shared values in a business setting. While these values often centre around the societal issues that matter, they also encompass how a business wants to present itself and the people within it. ‘Being’ better is one element but ‘doing’ better is essential. 

Encouraging colleagues to be active participants in improving the business and how we do things is a key part of our culture. As a business, we aim to foster an entrepreneurial spirit that helps colleagues build their knowledge and confidence. This, in turn is designed to deliver an environment where employees can be creative and share ideas with ease.

We encourage this mindset and have developed the ONE project to bring it to life. ONE is a competition where Dragon’s Den meets Britain’s Got Talent, offering employees the chance to become our next home-grown entrepreneur. The aim of this learning and development (L&D) project is to reach and engage with colleagues at all levels and locations throughout the UK and Ireland and to inspire a company-wide commitment to idea generation.

Defining purpose

Even when you hire like-minded employees, you can’t expect shared values to materialise without making a conscious effort to develop them. This is especially true in larger companies. With thousands of employees, located all over the country, with their own experiences and priorities, it is important to provide a framework for shared values and create an environment where those values can flourish.

This starts with leaders defining a clear company purpose and a meaningful set of company values. Although not the same as shared values, company values can define a brand and create the ethos behind its culture. Our purpose and values, for example, are prominent in on-boarding materials and the intranet, as well as in our offices and other sites. We are diligent about promoting and communicating these values – it sets the tone on the issues and behaviours that are important to the business. And that must come from leadership – cultivating our culture and encouraging engagement within their teams.

Nurturing shared values

Creating a culture and demonstrating shared values is challenging when employees are spread out across sites or working from home. It means that entire teams might not meet as one group very often. So, leaders have to create a space for this process, nurture the resulting shared values and celebrate successes whenever they happen. Programmes, such as CHROMA and ONE, do that and result in a thriving company that everyone is invested in.

Shared values can lead to stronger brand equity, increased customer loyalty, higher employee retention rate, higher productivity and increased profitability. That’s a pretty strong business case for creating shared values. And it’s up to leaders to create, shape and drive them.

Sophie Ransome is Head of HR at Atalian Servest, a facilities management service provider. Initially trained as an employment lawyer, she joined Atalian Servest as the company’s first employment counsel.

Creating a high-performing hybrid workplace: what should teams do?

Hult Ashridge’s Vlatka Ariaana Hlupic looks at how teams and individuals can adopt and foster the right mindset for success in hybrid work settings, in the second of two articles focused on the relationship between mindset and organisational culture

Survey after survey show that employees don’t want to go back to office full time after the Covid-19 pandemic, and many CEOs will have to backtrack on their desire to require everyone to be back to office full time, as was the norm before the pandemic.

In many recent surveys, over three quarters of all respondents prefer to work from home at least half of the time, and about half of respondents would quit their job if permanent options to work remotely at least half of the week are not available.

This means that hybrid workplaces are inevitable. The question now, therefore, is what behaviours leaders and their teams will need to display to create successful, high-performing hybrid workplaces where a significant proportion of time working is spent using technology to communicate and work.

Empowering teams and individuals

My previous article on Business Impact outlined key behaviours that leaders should enact to create high-performing hybrid workplaces. That article also explains The Management Shift framework and its five levels of individual mindset and corresponding organisational culture. It was emphasised how important it is that leaders lead with a level 4 (and occasionally level 5) mindset, in order to create a level 4/5 organisational culture that is suitable for hybrid workplaces.

The same applies to the teams. Teams (and individuals) also need to operate with a level 4/5 mindset (for which the dominant mindsets are ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘limitless’) that will ripple out to the rest of the team and organisation.

When individuals and teams operate from level 4/5, they become empowered. There is more flexibility with how, when and where work gets done, they take on more responsibilities but also become accountable for the results and deliverables. There is an inherent trust between leaders and employees and among team members themselves. There is transparency and a common sense of purpose, working for the greater good, working together as a team rather than individually. At this level, we see a marked increase in performance, innovation, engagement, and profit.

How the right mindset removes barriers and energises

Teams at level 4 will be motivated to give their best performance. They will feel purposeful, respect themselves and others, support their colleagues, be empathetic, and will enjoy helping others. They will feel happy about working at a particular company, they will be striving for high achievement, and they will socialise and connect with others, whether that’s virtually or face to face. They will feel energised when interacting with colleagues, and they will see work as fun. They will work on forming informal networks or communities focused on teamwork and collaboration.

Once they achieve this mindset, it does not matter whether they work from home or in the office, whether they are monitored by their boss or not. They will do their best, they will go an extra mile for a customer, and they will create these high-performing hybrid workplaces, which are now emerging in many organisations.

Attaining the right mindset

So, what practical actions can team members take to foster a level 4 mindset for themselves and their colleagues?

  • Get involved in mutual/reverse mentoring with a colleague of a different generation
  • Organise peer-coaching activities
  • Proactively create and distribute relevant knowledge and knowhow relevant for productivity
  • Organise and/or participate in social events to keep connections with colleagues
  • Give constructive feedback for improvements to your manager/leader(s) above you in organisational hierarchy
  • Engage proactively in learning and self-development. Share what is relevant with others
  • Work on anchoring your mindset at level 4, use language associated with the level 4 mindset (e.g. ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘team’) with others
  • Look for opportunities to collaborate with others and engage in projects that require teamwork

Finally, team members should also make an effort to see their colleagues and leaders face to face in addition to virtually because these personal interactions will always remain priceless and important for the creation of a high-performing culture.

Vlatka Ariaana Hlupic is Professor of Leadership and Management at Hult Ashridge Executive Education and Founder and CEO of Management Shift Solutions.

Avoiding common virtual workplace pitfalls

Discover the difference between ‘cockroach meetings’ and ‘tsunami meetings’ as part of this guide to staying connected and achieving efficiency in a virtual workplace, from company culture expert, Chris Dyer

Businesses that are considering going the remote route face some challenging questions: how do you know people will do good work and not just fool around? How will they be able to work together when they’re apart? Even if they do collaborate, can companies foster a team dynamic that remains consistent with their brand?

The answers to all of these questions lie within the culture that supports your employees. You can’t change human nature. And that’s a good thing, because some of its most intrinsic elements act to motivate people to do their jobs well. If leaders concentrate on a culture that encourages motivation and engagement, their workers will make the right choices and achieve the brand’s goals.

To focus, or not to focus

Let’s debunk the first fallacy about working from home, or another offsite venue – that if a person is not in a corporate chair, being watched, the mental wheels will not turn. This simplistic view is insulting to most adults who agree to perform certain tasks in exchange for a salary. A better question is, why wouldn’t they work? At any company, if objectives are not completed, the slacker will be cut loose.

A better issue is how well they focus on the task at hand. And this issue is certainly not the sole province of remote staff. Depending on your bricks-and-mortar office layout, an ability to focus depends on the same lack of distraction as it would at home.

Open office plans are common in times when rents rise, and consolidation saves money. Trading separate closed-door offices for rows of cubicles may reduce office space but increase competition for peace and quiet. I know denizens of these offices who take work home evenings and weekends so they can commit to a deeper focus. It’s easy to extrapolate this reality to full or part-time telework. 

At my fully remote workplace, we simply write in the rules as employment requirements. For example, people must have a dedicated office space – no laptops in cafés or papers piled up on the washing machine at home. They must have the appropriate network equipment, such as current computer hardware and software, high-speed internet service, and any communication apps that the group uses. They must be available for mandatory meetings, either in person or by teleconference.

Some things don’t need to be detailed. Any conscientious adult knows they can’t multitask with chores, family care, or other obligations and get their work done. We let employees separate their work time from personal time, a measure of self-control that puts the worker in the driver’s seat. As long as they complete what needs to be done, to quality standards and on time, we don’t cross the line into managing their schedules. The less we interfere, the better they can focus!

Tear down the walls of isolation

But won’t virtual workers get lonely and spend all day on the phone with their friends? Again, that’s not the way to get a raise, much less a steady salary. But it’s up to remote companies to help their people connect. If individuals need help, or have news to relay, they can’t just knock on a colleague’s office door or herd people into an emergency meeting.

When my office went remote, we had to create new meeting protocols. Sometimes you need that quick one-on-one; sometimes you need team input; and other times you might want company-wide consensus. How, we wondered, could we set up those exchanges as quickly and effectively as possible? How could we ensure that people at remote stations were prepared and paying attention?

We set rules geared toward maximum participation of the relevant parties, active engagement, and achievement of concrete objectives. We did this by considering what gets in the way of that sort of efficiency and effectiveness. People tend to dislike meetings that start or run late, meander off topic, and lead to still more meetings, rather than getting things done.

Now, the company always starts meetings on time, shoots for an early endpoint, and narrows the agenda to one or two main topics. Including the right people, who are prepared with the right information, increases the odds of checking things off our to-do list. To get those relevant players on board, we created a sliding scale of meeting types, based on the degree of urgency:

  • Cockroach meetings’ involve low-priority issues on which anyone can provide input, if they feel they have something to add. When we call a cockroach meeting, people can opt in or out and don’t have to put aside more important work to attend.
  • Tiger team meetings’ convene active members of project teams to share information, solve problems, or move toward their objectives. Tiger team meeting announcements only go out to those involved, on a need-to-know basis.
  • Ostrich meetings’ let managers and other decision makers get information downloads from key players who can best inform them. If I call an ostrich meeting, people with the facts know the CEO wants background on an important issue, fast.
  • Tsunami meetings’ are less frequent but address big concerns that can make or break the company’s viability. Tsunami meetings typically consider ‘what-if’ scenarios to arrive at backup plans for sudden or significant events, such as the illness or death of an executive or quicker-than-expected sales growth.

These guidelines make networking second nature, and meetings are more effective now than when we wasted time in our old in-office gatherings. Besides easily providing opportunities for formal collaboration and acknowledgement, we also have a digital platform for more casual group communication. Shout-outs to co-workers for their help, quick questions for the team, and even in-house surveys via instant messaging keep us connected.

Create true cohesion through transparency

The above solutions give us many individual workers who are capable and prepared to do their jobs, and ways for them to collaborate. But what makes them a team? And what makes the team a reflection of our brand? A culture that brings everyone on board, on a level playing field, does that. Just as with traditional hiring, onboarding is the time to indoctrinate new employees to the company’s mission and vision. If you’ve hired well, these people are accepting of the company’s values and way of doing business. Periodic reminders about core values to all staff align everyone with the organisation’s brand.

People are also part of that brand. Their talents and knowledge base contribute to it. So, a means of sharing accurate information among them keeps the brand consistent. In a traditional office, memos and word of mouth might work. But in a virtual model, there needs to be tighter quality control in communication. The best way to achieve a high level of transparency is for everyone to know what everyone else knows, who those people are, and how their work fits into the greater business scheme.

As our remote staff ebbs and flows, we periodically outline to the group the roles and job goals of every member, from clerks to the CEO. We explain why they do what they do, so when someone needs a resource, they know just where to look. There might be a pop quiz on the subject in company surveys or meetings. When individuals understand how their colleagues fit into the corporate family, they know they’re not alone, despite the distance between home offices.

In addition to updating this role-and-goal information continually, we also try to level the playing field by allowing anyone to consult with anyone in the company they believe to be helpful. This virtual ‘open-door’ policy invites collaboration and new ideas. People can compare data or clear up misunderstandings. Transparently sharing information brings the whole team together, with the resources they need to do their best work.

Today, our fully remote staff represents us well in the marketplace, as our performance level indicates. Enjoying the freedom to work as they choose keeps them engaged, and our shared accomplishments erase feelings of isolation. We’ve found that distance is no match for knowledge – and people who are motivated to think independently and act in everyone’s best interests don’t need to commute to get to the same place.

Leadership speaker Chris Dyer is a performance and company culture expert and author of The Power of Company Culture (Kogan Page, 2018).