Building a values driven company

You have built a successful and growing enterprise and have your teams in place.  You have made the transition from being a technician to being a visionary leader and in making that transition, you have moved your company into a whole new league.  No longer is it about finding and focussing on the customer.  Your people now focus on your customer and you are rapidly arriving at the conclusion that in order to operate at this new level, your people are now the single source of competitive advantage.

You have been going long enough that you have realised that you are no-longer a ‘start up’ and that you are no longer an ‘agile entrepreneur’.  You must now begin to build a Sustainable Competitive Advantage in order to survive.  Only your people can do that.  You will have noticed by now that there are others in your industry that are reaching the same conclusion and that your focus as the leader is moving from finding and retaining customers, to now finding and retaining talent.


Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership comes from the ‘Homo-Economicus’  industrial-age assumption that people are motivated by a narrow band of self-interest.  This thinking has been proven to be flawed many times over, but it very much permeates many of our leadership thinking – not least because we have been trained and scripted into it over many decades – but also because there is an element of truth to it.

I pay – you do.  I pay more – you do more.

This type of relationship is often nowadays seen as ‘wrong’ by business advisors like me, however, there are still types of businesses that can function perfectly well with such relationships.  Any business that relies on casual or part-time labour, for instance, may find that this is the most efficient way to get people with otherwise no emotional connection to the organisation to give their best.  The company will be letting them go at the end of their contract, and they know that.  There is no other aspect to the relationship other than a straightforward exchange of value. Work for money.


When it doesn’t work…

When your business grows, or the value created by the employee is more than simply the physical ‘work’ that they do (i.e.. application of years of experience, or a unique and rare skillset), the exchange of value becomes different.  The ‘work’ that employees do can vary in quality and effectiveness according to variables such as experience, qualification, personal pride, their affiliation with the client, their understanding of the client’s problems, loyalty to the company – and other factors, all of which multiply the value that they deliver to the client.  The client sees this value and is willing to pay more for it.

Now that the employee is delivering more value than the simple ‘work’ they are doing, they have de-commoditised themselves, and as a result begin to expect more than simply the ‘pay’ that they get for the work.  If you want to keep such a person (and you know you do!), it is time to switch from a transactional management culture to a transformative and ‘values-driven’ culture in which such high value people love to be and work.


Well we just change the culture, right?

Easier said than done.  Many companies struggle with this especially if they have recently scaled up.  The magnitude of change in mindset is huge, and all-pervading.  The commitment is on another level as the company is not simply committing itself to go through a change process and stop.  They are committing to behaving differently forever.    This change in mindset can only be driven from the very top of the company.  However, there are many business leaders at the very top of their newly-transformed companies ready to go forward who don’t quite know yet how they are going to tackle this task.  The following are three areas on which to focus if you are facing that conundrum:


Understanding of Values

There is a reason that the greatest companies and organisations in the world are so completely obsessed with values.  Can you state and explain your own core values as a succinct and specific list? Can you for your company?  Collaborate with your people and together work out what means most to you collectively. Then you can carve out a meaningful set of values.

What do…

  • You want and expect from them?
  • They want and expect from you, their leader?
  • They want and expect from each other and their subordinates?

Going through the process of such a discussion will bring you and your people together in ways you couldn’t previously imagine.  I have seen companies who have tried to do this in isolation from their employees – it never works.  It must be done together. Once you have done this, the values must pervade all.

They must be:

  • Used in the language of annual appraisal.
  • Applied in the descriptions of roles and responsibilities and in the recruitment process.
  •  used when rebuking an employee.
  • Demonstrated when praising an employee.
  • The standard against which the company measures literally everything and everyone.


Understanding of the Problems you solve

You have up to the point of growth been the person in your company that has focussed on the customer and the customer’s needs.  In doing so, you have allowed the people that have worked for you to focus on the ‘work’ itself.  You may have inculcated a ‘customer focus’ but often in smaller organisations. That idea is something that the boss creates and communicates.  In a bigger company, the customer-focus responsibility shifts from the ‘Owner Operator’ to the employees.  It is therefore essential that all employees have an implicit understanding of the problem or problems that your company solves.  It is also essential that this understanding is universal and consistent.

This aligning of people’s minds to the problem they are solving rather than the product they are pushing is the fundament of customer-focus, agile and flexible thinking. And the ability to delegate and make people feel valued.  It is also essential to agility.  Only by understanding the problem, will a company be able to spot the next disruptive way of solving it. By being ready to change their products to meet the need.  The ideas will come from your people.


Understanding of Vision

With the buzz of shared values, comes the next challenge.  The company vision. The vision often closely aligns with the fundamental problem that the company solves. But it is often more than that.  The ultimate vision that the company is to achieve must be extremely far reaching.  Which means the organisation and the people in it will have to grow and change in order to have a chance of achieving it.  However, it must be focussed, understandable, and known by all.

There is a story about President John F. Kennedy visiting NASA asking a janitor what he was doing.  The janitor responded, Well Mr President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.

The vision is a North Star that every person in the entire organisation can use to orient themselves to and find guidance in. If you can develop a vision that provides the same kind of natural guidance to your employees, you will have gone a long way toward transformational leadership.

So if you have grown, or are planning to grow soon, and you are not sure about how to create a values-based, high-morale, action-biased and agile company.  A company with low staff turnover and people focussing on doing the very best for the customer. Then focus on the Values, the Purpose and the ultimate vision. And you will build the foundations of a great and lasting company.


More information

If you would like some help in achieving this, please do get in touch for a no-obligation chat