How to keep the culture and values of your business alive

11 June 2014 -


They define what your business is all about and, unlike your strategy, are hard to imitate. Dr Jill Miller of CIPD explains how culture and values can help to differentiate your firm from its competitors

The culture of a business affects every aspect of how it operates, and how work gets done. And an organisation’s values provide a template for the behaviours and standards expected of its people. Taken together, the concept they form of “what you’re all about” as a business affects the standard of customer service delivered, the satisfaction and engagement of your people, and ultimately your bottom line.

New research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) – the professional body for HR and people – has found that unless your values are regularly reinforced and are the fundamental building blocks for your organisation, they will become diluted… or even disappear.

More than three quarters of small-business decision makers we surveyed (77%) agree that their business success hinges on them staying true to their vision and values, and say that this is something they will need to actively focus on as they grow (79%). However, almost a fifth (17%) believe that their colleagues would struggle to articulate what their company’s vision and values actually are.

Here are some top tips for retaining your culture and values over time:

1. Look out for subtle signs that your employees are becoming less engaged with your business

This might manifest itself as employees lacking the passion they once had for the business and being less willing to go the extra mile. However, many business owners say they just have an instinctive feeling that things are not quite right, which signals the need to re-engage the workforce with the founding purpose and values of the organisation.

2. Articulate what your business stands for and its values in a way that your people can identify with

It is important to communicate your values in words that really mean something to your employees and that provide a formal reference for what’s expected of people. Use focus groups to get employee feedback and discuss what your values actually mean in practice, in terms of attitudes and behaviours.

3. Tell your story

Ensure that your employees understand the back-story of your business as well as their role in building its future to increase their engagement and sense of ownership. For example, devise training or an induction for new starters that includes a section on the company’s journey and why you do things a certain way.

4. Consider how introducing new formal processes and procedures will affect your business culture

If your business success depends on being innovative and providing great customer service, try to avoid introducing cumbersome forms or lengthy sign-off processes which complicate simple tasks and impact upon customer service standards.

5. Your values need to be the golden thread through all your people practices, especially your recruitment processes

When hiring new staff, think beyond technical capabilities and look for people who fit with your culture and whose personal values and ways of working match those of the organisation. Cultural fit is something that can’t be learnt. And when introducing a new reward approach, think about whether it will encourage the desired attitudes and behaviour from employees.

Read the research findings in full: Keeping culture, purpose and values at the heart of your SME

Dr Jill Miller is a research adviser at CIPD

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