THE BLOG
11/28/2014 03:56 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2015

Bring Your Values to Life and Get the Culture You Want

In my work I help companies and teams get the culture that they want in their workplace. Sadly, sometimes there is a big gap between the culture that they have and the one they want. I work with teams to assist in assessing this gap and then using values definition and measurement to close this gap so they have the culture they want.

There are many definitions of culture in the workplace, mine is simply "the way things are done here", that is the collection of behaviors of the team. To explain this I often say to the team, "imagine if I were to set up CCTV in the workplace, what would I observe in the behaviors of the team, what would I hear people say to each other?" This is the culture, the way things are done. If I could I would go deeper and monitor what was going on in people's minds: what are they saying to themselves, what are they thinking, what are they feeling, etc. This would give even more insight.

I should define what I mean by values as well. To me values are the things that sit somewhere in our minds that help to filter the world for us and help us choose the most appropriate behavior. Values help us choose right from wrong, they help us make decisions. We know when our values have been violated as it usually causes a trigger of intense emotion. Values alignment is important to any team or company.

When I explain the concept of values to people I usually start by asking them about their own values, what is important to them. Next I ask if they are in a relationship with someone and ask about the values of the other person and how different or similar they are. Interestingly most people tell me that they are looking for about a 70% match with the other person which is also the answer I hear from people when I ask about what is the match you are looking for in a team or company. This alignment of values will lead to a common culture within the company and if you define your values well and you hire people that have alignment with those values and then you ensure everyone in the company understands them you will have a much better chance of achieving the culture you want. They assist the people in the team to understand how they should behave in certain situations and in doing so drive the culture.

So I could start off with the culture that I want and work back to see what appropriate values I need or the other way and identify the values I want and see how this would manifest into the culture. Either way, values are important and also how you explain the values to people so they make sense and people can understand how they can best live them.

When I was working with the team at wagamama in 2006 we came up with a way to allow the values to come to life and I have always used this everywhere I have worked since. The idea I had was to use an icon or a talisman for the values. This icon can be fictional/non-fictional, alive or dead but it is someone that you believe epitomizes the value that you are wanting to bring to life.

As an example I am currently working with ROCeteer and there are four high level values that the team have agreed to have as core values. The values are Bold, Inspire, Love and Truth (BILT by ROCeteer). What we have done is selected an icon/talisman for each, I wanted to share each, why we picked them, how we use them and inspire you to do the same if you like this approach.

BOLD: We want to be bold, courageous, follow our own path. We selected Captain Kirk to be our icon for this value because he was very bold and courageous and acted with passion.

INSPIRE: We want to inspire people and also be open to be inspired by others. We selected Oprah Winfrey to be our icon for this value because she is an inspiration to so many people and her life story is incredibly inspirational.

LOVE: We want to be playful and love our customers, team, our family and the community we serve. We selected Elmo to be our icon for this value because Elmo is fun and playful and wants the world to love more.

TRUTH: We want to search for truth and speak the truth. We selected Neo (The Matrix) to be our icon for this value because he was a force of truth in helping people see reality instead of the Matrix

Now that we have the icons for each of our values there is a lot we can do with this, here are some examples:

  • We can select quotes from each icon to use as symbols and ideals of what the value stands for, e.g., Captain Kirk's "boldly go where no man has gone before."
  • We can create a collection of stories of situations a team member may find themselves in and explore how the icon would behave in that situation, e.g., if you are living in your head too much and not exploring the real world what would Neo say or even do? Maybe the Matrix has you?
  • We can create a 'brand conscience' and ask the team to imagine our icons were sitting on their shoulder helping them. Similar to Obi-Wan Kenobi helping Luke Skywalker at key times.

I have found that creating value icons is a great way of bringing values to life and helping the team understand the essence of their values and live them consistently. Most importantly, it provides the team a better chance of achieving the culture that they want.

Mark Rowland is the Co-founder and CEO of ROCeteer working with entrepreneurial ecosystems to unleash their potential. He also works with Delivering Happiness and is passionate about unleashing the potential of people, companies and communities. At the moment he is based in Las Vegas and has previously lived in Asia, Australia, Europe and the UK. He has had a career spanning 25 years with large corporations and startups such as PwC Consulting, Coles Myer and then as CEO of wagamama Australia, Co-founder and CEO of Styletread. He is a chartered accountant, trained in NLP and is a qualified meta-coach.