There are certain HR topics which make people’s eyes glaze over and, like it or not, values is one of them. For too many employees, their only experience of an organisation’s values is during an induction presentation or when they walk past a certain wall in their lobby. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Freshly inspired by our Make Work Better conference, the Investors In People team recently met to discuss and update our values. The day was led by our People Director, Beth Samson. This is her take on why it was such an important and useful thing to do and (spoiler alert) it’s got nothing to do with having a nice new set of words to put on our wall.
In a lot of ways Investors In People’s values are perennial. We were created with a specific purpose in mind and our values came naturally out of that to guide how we behave. But the last time we actively looked at our values was in 2017, when Investors In People became a community interest company, and, since then, a lot has changed. Post Covid, the entire team now works from home, meeting in person once a quarter, and there’ve been a lot of personnel changes, particularly among the senior leadership.
So, while our values might be part of the fabric of how we work, people hadn’t really been using the language of the values and it’d been a while since we’d given them the kind of attention they deserved. Deciding it was time to shake that up, we booked a workshop on values for the day after our Make Work Better conference.
When it came to the timing, I couldn’t have asked our headline speaker, Steven Bartlett, to line up our day any better than he did. Steven had talked a lot about how culture can be both organic – it comes from how people behave and interact at ground level – and, if you’re starting an organisation, designed. What really interested me was what he said about reverse engineering your culture; designing the culture you want to fulfil your business goals.
The other thing he talked about was how strong cultures are self-policing. As a leader you set the tone and role model, but once your culture establishes itself, people carry on living it themselves.
Values should be like fingerprints, unique to us, we leave them everywhere we go. And one of Steven’s questions for the audience at our conference had been how do people experience you at work? Because how people experience us at work is the manifestation of our value set.
We invest in people
What we did
It was with all this in mind that I opened our workshop by asking the team to forget everything they knew about our values. We started with a pub quiz activity, where we randomly assigned teams, asked them funny questions and set puzzles. We then did a reflection exercise on how people had come together within their teams and what they brought as individuals to solving the problems.
Rather than just talking about what our values are, we tried to do it backwards, to reverse engineer, as Steven had said, to get us thinking about how we behaved first and then what values that might show.
We did other things too, like a creative activity where we asked people to come up with a visual representation of what a value meant to them – how it looked, sounded and felt – using magazines and print outs. In some organisations I know that might have met with resistance, but we’re lucky at Investors In People; people work for us because they’ve already bought into our mission and purpose, so they just dug straight in and came up with some amazing images and ideas.
What we learned
Did our day of reflection change our values? You could say it was more evolution than revolution. We’ve tweaked our wording rather than started again. Was it worth doing? Absolutely. Values aren’t about words, they’re about actions and intent. People can get so hung up on defining what We are Empowered means, but that’s not what’s important. What’s important is how We are Empowered is expressed and how that’s expressed changes over time too.
Our day also showed us our strengths and weaknesses. We’re very good at what we think our values look and sound like – for example, if we say We are Collaborative, that means recognising teamwork, engaging those from other teams, talking regularly, connecting outside of work. However, we’re less confident on what we’d challenge if we weren’t seeing collaboration and that was quite thought provoking for a lot of people.
Perhaps the most significant thing that came out of the feedback survey was that people liked that the workshop had given them time to think about their own behaviour. They said they’d be more intentional going forwards about living the values and spotting things that were helping or hindering them. In short, it was giving people the space to reflect that left them re-energised and inspired to do better.
Tips for organising your own values workshop
- Think about the energy you want to create. How are you going to design your day so that people feel that energy of refreshment and excitement and engagement? For us, I deliberately chose a hands-on, creative activity because we all work virtually. We’re attached to our laptops and screens all day, so I thought about what we could do to make it tangible and memorable, to excite different parts of the brain that aren’t usually excited.
- Challenge your thinking. We all bring assumptions to topics like this, so I did a lot of engagement before the day. I listened to people’s thoughts on the values we already had so I could design the day to be as impactful and useful as possible. I’d assumed nobody would want to continue with the values we created in 2017, but when I spoke to people I found it wasn’t about that, that I didn’t need to go that far. It was more about reconnecting people with what our values mean in practice.
The value of inspiration
The day before our workshop I was talking to someone at our conference who told me she’d been falling out of love with HR. She’d forgotten why she went into it in the first place and it just wasn’t exciting her anymore. But, she said, the conference had reignited that fire inside her, something which still gives me goosebumps to think about now.
In the day-to-day busyness of work, it’s easy to forget why we’re doing something and it can be so beneficial to take time out and remember why we do what we do. Because that’s what she remembered from her day: what we in HR do is important and influential and is going to shape the future.
We have the control to change things for the better – and what is that if not exciting?