Kip Soteres

For a Productive and Happy Workforce, Focus on Employee Values

A strong company culture centered on a set of clear and energizing values can be a critical differentiator for your business. Employees — both current and prospective — are more engaged, productive and happy when they feel that their efforts matter and contribute to something greater.

A company’s values should be a framework for its culture and a reflection of its community. Businesses bring together diverse skills, backgrounds, interests and attitudes. Among all those differences, a clear set of values creates an opportunity for employees to form a shared identity within the workplace.

Finding Values That Unify

A company culture intersects with multiple aspects of employees’ day-to-day lives at work, as well as all the assumptions that drive decision-making. To be comprehensive, your values should extend to employee benefits, codes of conduct, work-life balance, social causes and nonprofit affiliations. Values tie these elements together, using them to build a narrative that represents what the business accomplishes beyond providing services, producing goods or generating wealth.

In the end, a good set of values allows employees to tell a shared story about themselves, their teams and the broader organization. Finding those values begins by asking employees to tell their stories and share what makes them proud to work at your company.

Compelling narratives and themes will emerge as those stories arise. Good stories generate more stories, as those who may have held back originally begin to add their perspectives.

How to Tell Good Values From the Bad

A set of company values that will stand the test of time is simple, distinctive, memorable and authentic. If accountability is one of your values, then the majority of people at your organization ought to be able to say, “The level of accountability at this company is high compared with that of similar organizations.” It’s a good sign if employees reference your values in the course of their actual work days, using them to justify decisions, recognize champions and describe desired behaviors.

In contrast, weak values feel inauthentic or disconnected from employees’ daily lives. They are often long lists, sometimes of potentially conflicting values, that no one could reasonably be expected to remember over time. If the company culture treats employees as commodities, adopting a set of values will not resolve the deeper issues.

Measuring the Return on Investment in Values

Effective values extend beyond employees’ core skills and roles to define the qualities that make a company successful. Having these values on hand promotes a company culture that’s clear about what to look for in an employee, which makes it easier to hire strategically and reduce turnover, especially among identified critical talent.

Expect other measures to emerge depending on the specifics of your chosen values. Values connected to safety should lead to improvements in the safety record. If a value connects to customer focus, keep an eye out for an increase in customer satisfaction.

More than 50% of executive leaders believe that corporate culture influences productivity, creativity, profitability, firm value and growth rates. Consider how values may play into crucial aspects of your company, such as reputation. Nearly 90% of employees say they would not apply to a company that has a bad reputation with employees or the public. Almost half of job seekers say that company culture is very important when choosing where to apply for work. For 46% of employees, culture is their main reason for looking to leave their current organization, and one-third say that they would take a 10% pay cut to work in a job that they were passionate about. Meanwhile, attracting and retaining high-performing talent can increase revenues by up to 33%.

If innovation is important to you, it’s worth weighing the effect of values — Deloitte recently reported that mission-driven organizations see 30% more innovation. This may be partly because of the way that effective values help organizations build trust, something that’s essential at a time when only 46% of employees say they have a great deal of trust in company leadership.

Company culture is a story your employees tell every day, and an effective set of values gives employers a chance to move that story forward. Invest in shaping your values, and you open your business up to improvements in retention and productivity that can differentiate you from competitors, attract more loyal customers and make it easier to recruit a pool of high-potential candidates.

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