For the first 20 years that we were in business, whenever we were asked about our values, this was our reply:
“If you want to know what our values are, then please ask anyone who has worked with us. The stories that they tell you will demonstrate them better than any list. Better still, ask us for a story.”
In those early years, when a good deal of our focus was on customer service, we experienced first-hand, managers behaving in ways that totally contradicted their corporate values and so we had little appetite for following that path. Values seemed more of a wish list for employees than any kind of behavioural standard for leadership. One example was a company that included ‘Trust’ and ‘Respect’ among its values, but whose induction process treated new joiners as thieves. Things were different in the 90s.
There are a number of factors that point to what Simon Sinek refers to as the need for a CEO to ‘preach the cause not just sell the product’, one of many being the rise of the information superhighway. The internet has led to people asking more serious questions about a company’s purpose, values and mission statements and gone are the simple one word catch-alls, One Team or People First. It’s no longer good enough to paste up vanilla corporate values to pacify awkward customers or shareholders.
Social media enables your consumers to test your integrity and see if your choices and actions as leaders are matched and aligned to your stated purpose and values. And if not, well then, they’ll take their business elsewhere. If you say your organization will ‘Do the right thing’, you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be plenty of stakeholders and commentators who will be checking to see if you are. This is 2020, not 1990.
In 2018 we were working very closely with a company who were developing a new set of values and leadership principles. They had a new CEO and needed values that reflected how their employees wanted to do business and how they would like to see their leaders show up. Not a top-down initiative, but instead a grass-roots reflection of the company culture, based on its legacy stories. We were very fortunate to be there whilst this work was undertaken, and we had the privileged job of helping bring those values to life for people at a leadership event.
That led us to a change of heart and mind. We realised that we needed to rethink our own approach and wholeheartedly commit to values that reflect what we believe in, express our culture and our way of working. So at the start of 2020, before Covid-19 hit the world, we sat down and had a rich discussion that lasted a couple of days, where we talked about what we valued as people, and chose a set of values that illustrate who we are and what we believe. Here they are.
Inspired by our client, we also worked on our purpose. Why do we uniquely exist? What are we for? We know we could spend months noodling around the words, but this is where we’ve landed. Our purpose is …
What has engaged and entertained us all throughout this lockdown period have been the people who have turned the ‘beautiful constraint’ into an opportunity for creative thought and expression. Whether in industry, frontline health care, essential services or entertainment, creativity has been widely celebrated. It’s a good time to be creative. We love thinking and working creatively and our performing arts legacy has always influenced how we think and work. Nothing is more enjoyable for us than when somebody says yes and opens up the art of the possible.
Over the next few weeks we will look at our new values one by one, illustrating them with art and stories – because we think that will be an enjoyable way to get to know more about who we are. These are the things that we believe in and if you ever find that we are not living our values or fulfilling our purpose, then please tell us and we’ll put it right. It may have taken us almost 25 years to commit them to paper, but now they’re here, everyone can see them and we are responsible for living them, every day.