Company Values and Culture Drive Success
“Company values” is not just a catchphrase anymore and can’t be embodied through inspirational office art. Cultural and demographic shifts in society and the workplace are demanding more—more meaning, more fulfillment, and more substance. The problem is that many companies are not accustomed to defining values, and old-fashioned leadership styles can stifle the individuality that embodies the culture our society values today.
Why are Company Values and Culture Important?
Robert Wallace, executive vice president of marketing at Tallwave Capital, a company focused on business innovation, says values are essential to a business’s success. “Core values are the heartbeat of a company. They are the foundation of a company’s vision and mission, the guiding principles that drive a company’s behavior and actions,” Wallace says.
It’s not enough to have values, though. They must be lived within the company. Patty Olsen, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Huron says vision, mission, and values are tied together but mean nothing if there aren’t deliberate behaviors associated with them.
“Vision is what a company aspires to be. Mission is the declaration of an organization’s core purpose and focus that inspires. Values are the foundational, non-negotiate beliefs of an organization that drive decision-making. Behaviors give employees observable and measurable guidelines for success,” she says. “When these concepts are integrated and aligned, they provide the company and its employees with a true north to pursue. If the values, vision, and mission are not aligned, companies risk causing confusion for employees and clients.”
Values are so important that they are one of the first things companies should establish, adds Marissa Levin, chief executive officer of Successful Culture. “They will drive every business decision. Knowing what you stand for and what behaviors or ethics are expected is the most important business foundation,” Levin says.
A Paradigm Shift
Glenn Llopis, a former C-suite corporate executive and current chairman of the workforce development and human capital consulting firm Glenn Llopis Group (GLLG), has written a number of books on innovation in the workplace and says there are two major factors in the workplace today that are making corporate culture and values more important than ever. The first is the cultural and demographic shift our society is experiencing.
“People believe that this about race and gender, and it’s not. It’s about individuality,” he explains. “What it’s doing is getting people to realize there are so many differences in people today, and the ability to serve individual needs while identifying like-mindedness is really key to build a strong company culture that’s represented with values everyone can believe in and anchor on.”
Understanding this concept is particularly important in health care, he adds, which in the past has embodied prescriptive business models but now is tasked with becoming more consumer-driven. Leaders in traditional roles told individuals in their workforce, and consumers, how to interact, what product they needed, and so on.
Today, unique consumer needs are driving products and service innovation, and leaders have to respond. They also need to embrace the fact that employees today want to do more than simply punch a time clock. “The conversation around values and culture has historically stemmed around a one-size-fits-all approach. Leaders today can’t maximize potential of organizations and people unless they search for like-mindedness within differences,” Llopis says. “Most leaders have been stuck in traditional approaches to corporate culture. Most companies are still leading organizations and people based on what they believe those people should do inside the box they are given. But if you’re trying to work in the box you’re given, you’re going to end up just doing what you’re told. Employees want to feel like they are having an impact and can influence more. They want their professional growth and company growth to be in alignment.”
For some leaders, this shift can be difficult to embrace. “Leaders are experiencing an identity crisis. In simple terms, businesses in the past defined how their leaders should lead. Businesses defined leaders by creating a plan that was prescriptive about how to lead their employees and serve their consumers,” he says. “What’s happening now is it’s the other way around. The force of this shift has made everyone become much more aware about where they fit and how they can best contribute to an organization’s growth. Which means that organizations need to create environments that are welcoming at every level because serving individuality requires a concerted effort to know and account for the realities and the values of individual employees.”
This is also where the second factor in the importance of corporate values—speed of change—comes in to play. Not only are these changes transforming corporate culture, but it’s happening very quickly. “The speed of change is at an all-time high,” Llopis says. “It is imperative for us to get out in front of the change, and while that may sound easy, it’s really hard. What that means is there’s a greater requirement from leadership of making sure the individuals—the employees within an organization—are given the ability to influence more.”
Values and Employment
Corporate values are a passion for Ryan Parker, chief executive officer at Edelman Financial Services, who says he was attracted to the company in part because of the way it does business. “For me, for our firm, the whole notion of mission and values being totally intertwined in who we are, what we do, and how we do it is key. There is a genuine commitment to making that real,” Parker says. “Some organizations have not been able to be authentic. When you can achieve that, it drives bottom-line performance.”
Having strong values has both direct and indirect benefits for a company, Parker says. The direct benefits lie in retaining employees and customers, saving money on the cost to hire and retrain workers or attract new customers. The indirect benefits, however, are just as important.
“Someone who is truly engaged knows that the work they do is larger than themselves,” says Parker, noting that there has been a real change in employee and consumer mentality during the last 10 to 15 years. “There are so many values-based brands now because they realize the product doesn’t have an emotional connection, but the company does.”
Strong values aren’t just important for morale and the business’s bottom line, either. Hiring and training new employees is a long and expensive process. Without a strong foundation of corporate values and beliefs that promote inclusion and individuality, a company will not be able to retain the best workers. “People are savvy. They know the kind of environment they want to be a part of,” Llopis says.
“Today’s top talent is looking for more that a ping-pong table or free lunch on Fridays. They know what an asset their time, talent, and effort is worth. They want to be inspired. They want to be surrounded by people of high integrity, passion, and the drive to uplevel their own skills. They want to be a part of something bigger where their contributions make meaningful and lasting impact,” Wallace adds. “Core values are the backbone of a company’s culture, as well as the emotional draw one connects with when considering a company and when working on the team.”
Strategic core values can help retain employees by helping better define roles and procedures, he adds. “For example, if among your values is ‘always put the customer first,’ and it’s properly explained and ingrained into your staff, they will better understand their role in how to handle customer service. They will feel empowered to make decisions because they understand which are aligned with the overall values, mission, and vision,” Wallace says.
Levin suggests that companies begin promoting values early in the recruitment process. “They should be weaved into the position descriptions, and interviewing strategies should uncover how candidates align with the core values,” she says. “Companies that hire solely on experience or industry knowledge may end up with employees who are incompatible with the company culture—which is shaped by the core values.”
Consumers and Culture
Company values are important to employees and the function of the business, but consumers notice them, too. Levin says in a recent study by Cone Communications on corporate social responsibility, 87 percent of consumers said they would purchase products based on values or because a company advocated for an issue they cared about. Another 76 percent said they would boycott a brand if it supported an issue contrary to their beliefs.
Particularly in health care, changing societal demands and demographics are introducing a paradigm shift where, instead of accepting a product or service a business tells them they need, consumers are driving what they want from businesses and how they receive it. Healthcare organizations are being increasingly tasked to evolve with customer needs, and Llopis says values play a critical role in engaging consumers. They can tell when leadership is out of touch.
For consumers, Wallace acknowledges the culture shift and the demand for more socially conscious companies. “Companies like Tom’s and Warby Parker have created a culture that is both business- and mission-minded. At the same time, we’re seeing consumers wanting to back companies that care about more—value more—than just revenue,” Wallace says. “Does this mean that every company has to support a third-world country? No. But what it does mean is that companies need to have values and a vision and mission that are so embedded in their employees that their culture is obvious to the outside world. There is no denying when you walk into a business or have employee interaction within a company that invests in their people.”
One example Wallace shares of a company that embodies the concept of values is Robinhood, a stock-trading company. “Robinhood’s core values have attracted a whole new generation—Millennials—into the stock market. Robinhood understands that unlike older generations who invest for the sake of retirement, Millennials choose companies to invest in based not only on their return-on-investment, but because they care about the companies and believe in what they stand for,” he says. “If these investors don’t know what drives a company—what their core values are—they’re less likely to care or buy into what the companies are doing.
Social media has enabled the demand for strong, authentic company values, Parker adds. It’s easy to share bad news about a company, and that helps keep them accountable. “There’s been a democratization of the culture’s ability to make sure companies are doing it well,” he says. “If you’re not able to authentically express your values and you are trying to show that you are inclusive but it’s not how the company really lives, then they will eventually be exposed.”
Leaders Set the Tone
For values and culture to work in a business, it requires buy-in from employees and consumers, but, most importantly, from leadership. “It all starts from the top. The leadership must live the values every day. People are either on board or they aren’t. If they aren’t, they should find somewhere else to work that is more aligned with their values,” Levin says.
“Leaders need to touch the business just as much as they lead it. They need to go out and get their hands dirty and see it themselves. Numbers don’t always tell the story,” Llopis adds. “Leaders can learn a lot by committing themselves to listen more and get to know the people they are serving in more authentic ways.”
To do this, leaders have to be open to change, be vulnerable, and embrace values as more than just a line in a company handbook. “The best advice I was given as a young executive was to never stop touching the business and never stop listening to people,” Llopis says. “Leaders aren’t listening enough. Leaders aren’t being vulnerable enough. They’re not putting themselves in a situation to discover the truth about how people are really feeling and what matters most to them.”
Many times, leaders’ perception of corporate values, culture, and their own vulnerability doesn’t match that of their workforce. Leaders today have to constantly reinvent and transform their businesses rather than simply manage growth. They need to connect with employees and have a genuine understanding of what employees want, need, and can contribute. “It’s about doing your job versus serving individuality. If you serve individuality, you’ll not only get people to do their jobs, but you’re now allowing employees to see opportunities others don’t,” Llopis says. “When you serve individuality, it allows the person to work with a greater sense of purpose. This kind of mind-set promotes inclusion and individuality. When you’re serving a job, you are limiting people in their ability to feel valued, respected, and understood. You are limiting people to go above and beyond.”
Rachael Zimlich, RN, is a healthcare writer from Cleveland.