Why we do what we do, but more importantly, how we do it.
As business owners, we generally have, dare I say it, a higher level of emotional intelligence than others. This means we are (or should be) better at self-awareness, self-regulation etc, and in the main we wouldn’t do what we do unless we enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things that can be frustrating about running an agency, such as awkward staff, tenants, landlord and contractors. Who said this was going to be easy, eh?
We want to get up and do work which gives us satisfaction and makes us and our staff happy. A happy workforce makes for an easier life, so we want to have a connection with those we work with, regardless of whether we are the boss or not. We want to contribute and make a difference. We want a job/business that means more than what it looks like on the outside.
How do we as business owners instil that warm, fuzzy feeling in our staff? We do it by having company values and beliefs.
When researching this chapter, I must have looked at over a dozen definitions of company values and beliefs, and the Business Dictionary provided by far the best.
The operating philosophies or principles that guide an organization’s internal conduct as well as its relationship with its customers, partners and shareholders.
At a base level, company values and beliefs are the essence of our company’s identity. They are the DNA of our company and how it operates. But the surprising thing is that many companies still don’t have a set of values and beliefs. Or worse still, they have an arbitrary list of words on the wall that no one knows, recognises or follows. Basically, they are there for show.
If you are looking to create or update meaningful values and beliefs, then the first place to look is to those who are expected to live and breathe them: your staff.
Why have company values?
When you build a company around values, you will have a company to be proud of. The hardest thing is getting started.
Values must come from the top. If we, as business owners, don’t believe in the company values, then how can we expect the staff to buy in to them all?
Notice I used the words ‘buy in’. It doesn’t mean that every staff member has to have the exact same values that you do. You may be family orientated and they may not be. You may be fiercely proud of something and they couldn’t care less. They do, however, have to recognise, appreciate and follow the company values in order to work for you.
The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive.
If you think about it, you wouldn’t have friends whose values were misaligned to your own, so why would you work with people who don’t share the same values?
What do you need your company values to do?
- Define who you are. If you don’t have an identity or brand, you’ll quickly lose direction and forget what you stand for.
- Assist in the decision-making process. Any significant decisions should be underpinned by your values. For example, you may need to make a hard decision about letting staff go or turning away work, but if you stay true to your values, you will make the correct decision.
- Assist with writing the procedures. If you write your procedures with your values in mind, you will be expecting the staff to perform in a way that is aligned with your personal and company values.
- Provide a competitive advantage. Values help to educate clients or customers on your unique selling point (USP), selling what makes you different.
- Be a valuable recruitment and retention tool. Your business doesn’t have values, the people within it do. By recruiting against those values, you attract individuals who align with who you are and what you do. The Millennials defy their predecessors by ranking culture, corporate identity and benefits such as work-life balance over and above salary or location. Values will help you to attract top talent.
- Communicate what is important. Values influence behaviour, shaping your culture and inspiring people to action. That translates into greater productivity, innovation, and ultimately, business success.
How to come up with company values
Determine who should be involved. Depending on the size of your company or team, the group (or person) in charge of creating your values could be very different. It could be just you or it could be a team of people. I confess, at Castledene we cheated a little. I already had the values pretty much ironed out, but wasn’t quite sure how to word them. I then got the managers involved and explained what I was doing and why I’d invited them to be part of the process.
This process highlighted that even though I didn’t know exactly what the values would be, I had already attracted people with the same values as me, as every manager spoke about being the best or beating a certain competitor or always improving.
It may just be you who decides the company values if your team is small. You may drive the conversation or decision by involving others, or you may see it as more of an engagement or creative process. You have the final say, and you can decide what the values should be.
Brainstorm about what’s important to you and your team. For my team, the next step was to sit down together and have a brainstorming session. Although we didn’t just brainstorm ready-made values from other businesses, we did look at other companies and what their values were (some examples are coming up). We’d scheduled the meeting in advance, so that everyone could have a good think and come prepared with suggestions. We then put ideas on to a white board (bear in mind I already had a reasonable idea where I wanted this to go). The session was invaluable as it ensured that the management team bought in, having had a hand in moulding the business values.
Sit down in a quiet room and go through what you think your values are. Bear in mind that they shouldn’t change; they will be with you pretty much for the rest of your working life. But you will have had them from as far back as you can remember. Your parents and how they brought you up will have a lot to do with your values.
A word of warning, though: don’t pick the usual suspect of honesty, integrity, customer service excellence. Those are the standard go-to phrases that everyone uses. They should be a given.
What do I mean by that? If I felt the need to shout about the fact I had integrity, I would personally be a little bit embarrassed. I’ve always had integrity and honesty; surely that is expected of me. It’s like someone asking what I did at the weekend and my reply being, ‘Well, I woke up, got out of bed, brushed my teeth, had a shower…’
Get happy with your values. Become comfortable with them before speaking to your staff.
Consolidate and define. In my experience, this step took the longest – and for good reason. At this point, my team and I took twenty to twenty-five ideas that we had brainstormed, combined the similar ones and narrowed the list down to around twelve. There were some big characters in the room, so people felt strongly about certain suggestions. The funny thing was, the team was arguing (or should I say debating) over words that have the same or similar meanings. One person had brought up the word ‘progression’ and another ‘achievement’, which to me both mean that we are moving towards attaining our goals.
It was nice to see so much passion and belief around the values, even though it was a little heated at times. The process took a couple of weeks. It’s not a time-bound exercise, and nor should it be. You can’t put a time limit on coming up with the rules by which you and your team will forever operate.
After what seemed like an age, but in fact was only a couple of weeks, we came up with our company values. My MD and I were really happy with them and felt that they summed us both up, and how we wanted the company to operate.
Frame your values according to your team’s culture. The next task is to get your values out to the staff. Again, this process will depend on your company and how you operate. Is your company a one-person band, a large single office or a multi-branch corporate?
Getting management buy in is certainly advisable. We made the values into large posters and we have at least two in every branch, ensuring that one is in the main office where all our customers and clients can see it, so that they know how we operate and can hold us to account. The other is in the kitchen or the training room so the staff can see it all the time, allowing it to act as a subtle reminder. I’ve caught people reading it time and time again. It’s as though they are proud that we have values and we follow them.
I appreciate that this may feel a bit new age, but hopefully you will see how important values are as a business process. They are critical to the foundation of the business.
Live it, breathe it. Once you have a set of values and have rolled them out across your company, you need to be consistent with them. It can’t be a flash-in-the-pan exercise; you can’t be all for it in May, then forget about it in June. They have to be the rules that you follow throughout your business cycle.
Having a set of values only works if they’re ideas that are going to push you and your team to excellence – so make sure you’ve outlined what will work for you and you are consistent. Some people won’t share your values, so be prepared for some disagreements and questioning. That’s fine; don’t get angry or upset about it. It’s natural. It’s a bit like asking who the best footballer is. We all have our own opinions; just make sure you have thought of all the potential avenues that the conversation could go down. At the end of the day, you are doing your staff the courtesy of discussing your values with them. It’s your business, and you don’t have to listen to feedback if you don’t want to – although I highly recommend you do.
John Paul runs the Agency Growth Strategies group on Facebook. A great resource dedicated to helping estate agents and letting agents build their business. Head over and request to join today.
You can view his other blogs in this series below: