This is a short opinion piece about why I think the obsession with brand values is flawed and what we should do instead. And thankfully because this is an opinion piece, I don’t have to be right.
If you only have 60 seconds read this paragraph:
The most successful organizations focus on really simple core behaviours that everyone from top to bottom learns and applies to everything they do. These core behaviours create a strong, shared culture that ensure customers get a consistent experience. People find it easy to learn them, because we’ve spent our entire lives learning through behaviours. In contrast values are abstract, hard to apply to our everyday working lives and far too easy for any brand and organization to talk about. That is why we see the same sets of values everywhere. Which means they create no real value.
Organizations perform better when everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing
It sounds obvious, but don’t take my word for it. Patrick Lencioni writing in the Harvard Business Review back in the early noughties suggested that successful organizations didn’t just tell everyone to pursue success and profitability. They told them “this is what we do and this is how we do it”. And they made this way of doing things unique to that organization. It underpinned their culture and identity. It became an organizational DNA that supported strategic decision making. And above all it enabled every employee and stakeholder to understand how they fitted in and how what they did mattered.
Great theory I hear you say. But what does that actually mean in practice?
Behaviours are a universal language
How do we learn as little kids? Through behaviours. We learn how to play with other kids, how to eat our food and how to cross the road without getting hit by a bus. In the same way smart organizations talk about desired behaviours. Behaviours around a specific task, to work with colleagues, to deal with customers.
Aligning the organization around a positive set of core behaviours has many advantages as well as the fact that it builds on the earliest, most fundamental way in which we learn and understand.
Behaviours are relatively easy to define and simple to explain. Because they can be linked to real-life, everyday activities and scenarios. This also makes them easier to monitor and correct or encourage as appropriate.
Behaviours are universal. They link and unite everyone in the organization from the CEO to the most junior person. From the person who started yesterday to the one who’s been there 30 years.
Behaviours are objective and concrete. There’s not much room for debate or interpretation. So they remove much of the potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication that is the biggest killer of customer satisfaction.
Behaviours can evolve and change. We know what works best today won’t necessarily be what’s best tomorrow. But when you organize around behaviours that’s ok, because people understand it when you say “we need to stop doing it this way and start doing it this way”.
Behaviours make it easier for businesses to walk the walk
Importantly behaviours can be seen in the actions of others, especially senior management. This is the best way for the organization to come across as credible and to lead from the front. And if the senior team is embracing the desired behaviours of the business, then it is far easier to convince the wider employee base to follow suit. This alignment ultimately is reflected in a consistent and positive customer experience.
If building around behaviours makes so much sense why do most organizations still build around values?
How many times have we seen organizations and brands talk about integrity, diversity, boldness, accountability, loyalty, transparency, customer-centricity, sustainability?
What the hell does it mean to be bold? Does that tell a customer service agent what to do when somebody is shouting at them? And do you really want to instil that in the accounts department?
Sure, the idea of values seems great in theory. They also look really good in investor presentations and on the website. And you can put them on the walls in the workplace. But I guarantee there’s nothing like a new shiny set of core values to make an entire organization beyond the C-suite and the marketing department roll their eyes in unison. Yet despite this, values are still seen as an essential piece of the brand strategy toolkit. In truth, they are usually a meaningless tick-box exercise that have no beneficial impact upon the organization.
Above all, they’re never unique to one organization. The reason you recognize all the values is because everybody uses them. So really, what’s the point of values when they have zero value?
Maybe then it’s time to do things a little differently? Something that allows brands and organizations to demonstrate their individuality. Something that might mean a few less eye-rolls when the new brand strategy is launched.
Behaviours begin at home
At the Maverick Group we practice what we preach. Our entire business is built on 6 key behaviours. Behaviours that we look for in every single team member that we hire. And behaviours that we work hard on encouraging every single day. And these behaviours are responsible for the great clients we have, and in the solutions that we recommend.
Radiators make you believe anything is possible. They make you want to bottle up some of that unicorn magic. Be a radiator and light up the room when you walk in, not when you walk out.
#2 ASK WHY
‘Why?’ is our best friend. ‘Why?’ helps us avoid all the head-scratching and false-starts. We interrogate every challenge from the get-go, until we have all the information needed to create not just a good idea, but a Maverick one.
#3 KEEP IT SIMPLE
Complication is easy. Simplification is hard. The ability to THINK MAVERICK begins with our determination to turn difficult problems into brutally simple strategies and single-minded solutions?
#4 THINK MAVERICK
Our Maverick ways of thinking enables us to use everything within our bulging arsenal to create game-changing ideas – ones that will make our clients stand out from the crowd.
#5 THAT’LL DO WILL NEVER DO
We always try to ‘blow the bloody doors off’! It’s why our clients comes to us – because everything we do should be as impactful as possible. No punches pulled. No shortcuts taken. No exceptions.
#6 TOGETHER WE’RE DYNAMITE
We are talented alone but devastating together. We listen to each other, help each other, and – no matter how busy we get – when our colleagues are swamped, we pick up a shovel. Because next time, it might be us up to our necks in the mud.
If you’re curious about how the right set of behaviours could be built and encouraged to grow within your organisation, then speak to the team at Pulse.