What is a Vaues-led business?

It might be easier to start with what a values driven business is not: A business with a series of “hard” KPIs used to monitor performance (many of which tend to be financially based). Tight financial control is an extremely important part of a business and can coexist with what I refer to as a values led management system. The hard numbers provide feedback regarding the financial health of the business. The values-led framework provided guidance to the employees about the culture of the business and the expectation of the owner(s) and other employees in the business. So where does this framework come from?

The framework is developed from the identified values of the founder(s) of the business. These values are commonly expressed as 3 words which have meaning to the business founder(s). What’s the significance of these words? This describes how the business will be conducted on behalf of the owner(s).

Of course (like Shrek the ogre “with his layers like an onion”) we like to keep our values hidden within us. So, to operationalise values throughout the business we must work out agreed standards of behaviour that are understood by all. And once these standards are established, these need to be hard coded into the business management system – I would recommend including them in the annual staff review process.

What are the advantages of a values-led business? For one, it’s a great way to shape organisational culture, which is of course “the way we do things are around here”. Ideally, you want other employees apart from the boss calling out unacceptable behaviour / identifying and encouraging the right behaviour.

A values business may well be suited to the modern organisation where the younger employees have different expectations to those that have come before.

Malcolm Gladwell is an author famous for his book “The Tipping Point”. Addressing delegates at an Atlassian Team ’21 summit, he posed some interesting ideas about how modern workplaces are developing. Augmenting humans with computers to do the heavy lifting requires people to work more effectively. A weak link in this scenario can be disastrous.

Gladwell uses the analogy of a soccer team, where the match is determined not by the strongest players on the pitch, but the weakest links. Many workplaces are moving in the direction of arranging themselves as teams with flexibility and connections at the core, as they adapt to modern technology. This trend is driven by the expectations of younger people, who expect to be playing on the team and involved in the decision-making process. They are less interested in hierarchical structures, with their rigid roles. This creates challenges for management with the big shift in power dynamic. It also becomes the managers role to make sure everyone in the team is qualified and experienced, fit for their role.

Younger employees have a different idea when they use the word team than how the word has been applied traditionally. They want to be involved in the decision-making process. This creates management challenges, particularly in how to build necessary skills and to provide effective feedback regarding progress. The behaviour framework enables specific, actionable feedback to be provided.

Peter Wilkinson – Director, Sam Wilko Advisory

Author of “The Steel Ceiling: Achieving Sustainable Growth in Engineering and Construction” Wiley, 2023