By Guest Contributor Alan Williams
Author of The Values Economy (publishing Spring 2021) and The 31 Practices, Alan Williams, talks to us about why values are so important to businesses, especially now.
And to celebrate World Values Day today, we are offering 10% discount on Alan’s new book The Values Economy for delivery in UK and Ireland. All you have to do is email firstname.lastname@example.org to secure your discount.
WHY ARE VALUES SO IMPORTANT TO BUSINESSES, ESPECIALLY IN THE CURRENT CLIMATE?
There are many influencers on the new business agenda, which is emerging, and we believe that just three factors are combining to create a fundamental shift:
- CHOICE. The way people make decisions is changing. Previously, decisions were made on a rational, often financial basis whereas, increasingly (and even more so for younger ones), people are making decisions at a more emotional level, based on what is important to them and to express their opinion and identity.
- COMMUNICATION. In our super-connected world, social media facilitates transparency and amplifies all stakeholder opinion.
- CONTROL. Organizations no longer ‘own’ their brands. The role of customers and employees (past, current, and potential) as ambassadors for their organization has, in some ways, replaced the traditional marketing function.
A perfect storm of values-driven choices, instant and amplified communication, and control of the brand being shared by stakeholders (think of it as C3) has created a new paradigm which we refer to as The Values Economy.
HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THE IMPORTANCE OF VALUES CHANGE SINCE PUBLISHING YOUR BOOK, THE 31 PRCATICES?
In the eight years since the first edition of The 31 Practices[i] book was published, the topic of values has caught the imagination of people all over the world. ‘Values’ are even more front of the mind for a wide range of people; from political leaders to high profile celebrities and a variety in between, all seeking to win support for their various causes. In 2018, values took centre stage for many advertisers (Toyota was applauded for its ads focused on unity and social values) at one of the world’s biggest advertising events, the Super Bowl. The inaugural World Values Day took place on 16th October 2016 and people in more than one hundred countries have taken part each year between 2017-2020.
Putting values at the centre of everything an organization does is the starting point to create a strong and authentic brand. This is particularly relevant for service organisations where people are a core element of their proposition. But the focus on values needs to be sincere and authentic rather than a lip service PR campaign. Witness the negative reaction to the McDonald’s marketing initiative of flipping its golden arches upside down on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in honour of International Women’s Day.
And yet while organizations are increasingly realising the importance of purpose and values as a fundamental aspect of their brand identity, recent research by Donald Sull and colleagues at the MIT Sloan School of Management reveals that there is no correlation between the cultural values a company emphasizes in its published statements and how well the company lives up to those values in the eyes of employees. There is much work still to be done in this area.
HAS OUR RELIANCE ON DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIAL MEDIA USE INFLUENCED THE NEED FOR A BUSINESS TO BE VALUE-ORIENTATED?
Yes, this is one of the three key drivers mentioned above. In our super-connected world, social media facilitates transparency and amplifies all stakeholder opinion in what some are calling the age of the naked organisation. Authenticity, from the tip to the root, has become the new Holy Grail. Whereas previously it was possible to invest in marketing and PR to ‘tell a story’, now, and increasingly in the future, the publicly shared views of stakeholders hold greater sway. This shift in power means that organizations are no longer what they say they are but are, instead, what others say they are. Think about your personal experience. What do you give more weight to: the official messaging from an organization whether this is on a website, in a company document or even an advertisement, or what customers and employees say about the organization or people who you know or your personal experience? For most people it is the second set of information that holds greater sway.
WHAT SHOULD A BUSINESS CONSIDER WHEN ESTABLISHING THEIR VALUES INTERNALLY?
Every business is different so there will always be an individual context to consider. However, if you pay attention to four specific areas, this will help to drive maximum value and effectiveness from the organization’s values.
CLARITY – the values are identified with wide-spread employee and other stakeholder involvement based on everybody’s experience of the organization at its best, so they are real and not imagined. Then label and describe the values in simple and practical terms, making expectations clear. Communicate them regularly, internally and externally, formally and informally so that they are understood by all: what they are, what they mean and how they connect at a personal level
PRACTICE – make the values visible and used everywhere by people at all levels, in words, decisions and behaviour, referred to and activated in policies and processes. Actively use the values to make decisions about the direction and development of the business, including strategy and governance. Reflect them in how the organization spends time, resources and energy, both inside the company, and in relationships with different stakeholder groups. Leaders championing the values and recognising examples of values driven behaviour sets an example for others to follow.
IMPACT – put in place processes to encourage constructive feedback and hold everybody accountable. Seek, measure, share and act upon the perceptions of employees, customers, service partners/suppliers and other stakeholders. Use a combination of objective assessment and subjective feedback including self-reflection. Publicly report values and culture metrics and achievements alongside financial and other business indicators.
DEVELOPMENT – take time to reflect on key decisions, consciously referring to the values. Learn, individually and collectively from all the available information and perceptions and continuously develop to live the values more fully. Tackle the complexity of competing values through open and robust debate. Review and update policies and processes to reflect this learning, share what is learnt with other organisations and groups, and seek to learn and benefit from their experience.
SHOULD A COMPANY’S INTERNAL VALUES BE DIFFERENT OR THE SAME TO THE EXTERNAL VALUES THEY COMMUNICATE TO THEIR CUSTOMERS OR CLIENTS?
Because we live in a world that is increasingly transparent and connected, any attempt to present different ‘faces’ to different audiences is complex, resource heavy and fraught with risk. For example, if the senior leaders of an organization make public statements to shareholders about their strong commitment to the environment and good practices but then employees regularly see wasteful colour document printing, service partner selection does not include an examination of environmental practices and customers see unnecessary plastic packaging this will adversely affect the reputation of the company because of the ‘brand control’ point made in the answer to the first question. It is far more effective (and easier) to concentrate on reinforcing the organization’s values in all decisions and activities with all stakeholders. This establishes a sense of trust. Alignment is the key to success and the SERVICEBRAND approach helps to reflect and reinforce the values in everything that the organization does.
TO CELEBRATE WORLD VALUES DAY, YOU CAN GET 10% OFF ALAN WILLIAM’S NEW BOOK THE VALUES ECONOMY, PUBLISHING IN SPRING 2021. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS EMAIL INFO@LIDPUBLISHING.COM IF YOU LIVE IN UK AND IRELAND TO SECURE YOUR DISCOUNT.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ALAN WILLIAMS is Founder and M.D. of SERVICEBRAND GLOBAL, which helps progressive leaders of service sector organisations internationally and in UK to deliver values driven service for sustained performance. An author and international speaker, his projects have achieved measurable business impact and gained industry awards. Alan is the Founder of the Global Values Alliance, a Steering Group member of the UK Values Alliance and non-executive director of British Quality Foundation.
Every company has its own values and brand which it wants its customers and clients to engage with and develop loyalty to. At the same time, research shows that 70% of customers’ brand perception is determined by their experience with the company’s employees. Moreover, 41% of customers are loyal because of good employee attitude.
This book shows how companies can translate their values and brand into the daily practices and behaviour of their employees, especially those who must deal directly with customers. Drawing its principles from psychology, sociology, philosophy, neuroscience and leadership, the 31 Practices method has been successfully adopted by large and small companies around the world, and has been responsible for significantly enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty.
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