Most organisations today have a set of values or principles that articulate and guide how they do business, how their employees behave, and how they interact with their customers. Of course, the extent to which those values are seen or experienced can differ dramatically.

Incidents like the BP oil spill of 2010, or the VW emissions scandal of 2015 show that the reputation and share price of organisations acting unethically will suffer. Colleagues, customers and citizens alike are demanding trust but also authenticity. You need to be seen to be living your values. One of BP’s values was ‘safety’, yet evidence showed shortcuts were taken that compromised safety leading to fatalities and significant environmental impact.

But it’s not always so clear cut. High profile transgressions of scale are one thing. What about the day-to-day decisions and actions taken by organisations, are they always in line with espoused values?

For example, Stop funding hate, an organisation aiming to make hate unprofitable by persuading advertisers to pull their support from publications that spread hate and division, have a growing list of ethical advertisers such as Lego, Lush and Santander.

On the other hand, organisations such as Virgin Media and Lidl have been questioned on their actions not reflecting their values by advertising in The Sun newspaper, a publication with ‘a track record in bullying, muck raking and stirring up hate’. The question was asked of both Virgin Media and Lidl how their respective values of ‘Straight up – we’re honest, decent… and stick up for what’s right’, and ‘Respect – acting towards others in a way we’d want to be treated’, fit with the decision to advertise in The Sun.

How then do you ensure your organisational values are adding value? These five questions might help you decide:

  1. Are they authentic?

Your values need to represent your business and your people. The best way to define meaningful values is to look at what your customers or other stakeholders need from you, your business strategy, and the needs of your people – not at what Google do.

  1. Do your leaders believe in and demonstrate them?

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said ‘What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you say’ – and this still rings true today. Your leaders need to walk the talk, and to do that they need to believe in the values. If they don’t, then uncovering what your leaders really do believe could be key.

  1. Are they properly embedded in the organisation?

Communication of your values is only part of the equation. It’s a given that values will only be successful if people know what they are, but being able to parrot them back when asked adds little. Your values need to be embedded into your processes and systems and reflected through the employee lifecycle.

  1. Do they drive decisions?

So, your values are included in induction and performance management. They may even be spread across the walls of your offices. So far so good. But as with the Virgin Media or Lidl examples above, if they’re not visible in the decisions and choices your organisation makes, then they and your organisation could be called into question leading to reputational issues.

  1. Do they make it easy for people to act?

Does everyone in the organisation understand what the values mean, and more importantly, what they’re required to do? If values are not underpinned by behaviours then employees, customers or citizens will use a different framework to help decide what to do – and that could be risky!

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, it might be worth considering a review of your values now.

Click the links to see how we helped Riverside Group and BGL create values that resonate.