I am sure you have heard about the purpose-driven evolution occurring across the global workforce. People are assessing their own alignment to the purpose and values of the organisation they work for and reviewing their commitment. This is the ‘Great Resignation‘ which is in turn inspiring the ‘Great Realignment‘ as organisations adapt and consider the method to reengage their greatest assets – their employees before seeing a mass exodus.

I understand this assessment, having made that same decision to change my career path in search of more balance in 2020, ‘sacrificing’ my corporate career as a Director within a well regarded law firm. Something I had worked extremely hard to achieve. I no longer felt that my personal beliefs and values, and no not religious beliefs, but personal values and associated expectations were aligned to the Firm I was in. Both mine and the firm’s trajectory and demonstration of values had shifted. This misalignment, through no single pin-pointable issue, caused me to take what some may say is ‘drastic action’. I left the firm and went out on my own. This is not a new concept, yet again, but it is an increasingly prevalent one. I am no trendsetter.

So if you are to retain you key assets throughout this Great Realignment, demonstrating that you live and breath your organisation’s mission and purpose, where do you begin? Through the creation of values. Values by definition are: “the core ethics or principles which the company will abide by, no matter what. They inspire employees’ best efforts and also constrain their actions.

So if your ‘Mission or Purpose’ is the aspirational ‘what, for whom and why‘ outlined in my previous article, ‘Values’ are the ‘how‘. Coming up with values can be an exciting and engaging exercise. It can be creative, involve self reflection and aspirational thinking and is often a highly collaborative project. Through this process, you can come up with powerful words with great meaning. You hopefully will consider your clients (of course!) whilst putting your sticky notes from one page to another and narrowing down the list to a digestible number of words that resonate and feel just right. You send a firm-wide communication, have a morning tea (via Zoom!) order decals for your windows and name each one of your meeting rooms after them. Fab – you nailed it.. Or did you?

Consider: What do those words say about your organisation? Are they unique, showcasing your point of difference? Do they accurately reflect your mission or purpose? Are they client and service focused? What do they actually mean in practice to each different employee? How do you ensure there is consistency and that your people (current and future) commit to your organisation – drinking the metaphorical Kool-Aid!???

You may now realise, it is not so simple after all.

study of the S&P500, showed there are common themes in values, narrowing to just 9 groups with variations on the same meaning. That is 500 organisations which demonstrate the same words or meanings as their core ‘how’ of working. These are:

  1. Integrity + Ethics + Accountability + Trust + Honesty + Responsibility + Fairness + Do the right thing + Transparency + Ownership
  2. Teamwork + Collaboration/Cooperation
  3. Innovation + Creativity + Excellence + Improvement + Passion + Pride + Leadership + Growth + Performance + Efficiency + Results
  4. Respect + Diversity + Inclusion + Development + Talent + Employees + Dignity + Empowerment
  5. Quality + Customer + Meet needs + Commitment + Make a difference + Dedication + Value + Exceed expectations
  6. Safety + Health + Work/Life balance + Flexibility
  7. Community + Environment + Caring + Citizenship
  8. Communication + Openness
  9. Hard work + Reward + Fun + Energy

It is no wonder with such a narrow and generic selection that employees are not feeling connected, nor are companies differentiating their way of working, creating cultural differentiation. A Harvard Business Review article states that values can be a farce, and simply offer the illusion of organisational change. The same article reports that only 27% of US employees believe in their company values. These values become “nothing more than cosmetic window dressing” leading to resentment and indifference = AKA disengagement. These are indeed signs of the Great Resignation.

So, how is it that you can bring those shapeless, meaningless words plastered on your walls, decals on your windows and lining your letter head, to life? How can you repurpose those values to achieve not only greater engagement with your people, but also shift the focus to clients? After all, according to beaton research into culture, client centricity is the #1 cultural decision making driver for professional services clients.

I would challenge you that the importance of values within this client centric focus, is not the level of creativity, or the process to find these words. It is the behaviour they represent. The demonstration of what each of these terms means to the beholder, ultimately delivering a behaviour road map for ALL employees.

Your values are actually those top level behaviours or attributes which support your mission and business success. To make these tangible and alive for each layer or cohort of your firm, each of these values should be further defined by a list of behaviours which show how your team demonstrate these values each and every day. This is powerful when working with individual cohorts or role types. For example the litigation team lawyers may have a very different interpretation on how the value: ‘transparency‘ plays out, to perhaps the marketing team.

These should also be considered with your clients in mind. For example, if a core value is transparency, consider how you will demonstrate that in support of your clients’ experience and your clients’ end goals. Remembering that if you have a truly client centric culture, your behaviours will be what is BEST for your CLIENT, not perhaps what you have always done, or what is most comfortable for you. Importantly, there will be internal focused behaviours that fall out of this process. This is positive and will support greater team cohesion. Make sure however that you separate out a list that demonstrates how you promise to engage with clients. This is often forgotten when considering firm values, the assumption being that they are for internal engagement only.

You can set expectations of these values through demonstrable behaviours through a simple exercise outlined in the image below. This can be done in groups, or individually.

  1. Consider the value
  2. Outline what it means to you or your collective group – does this support your purpose?
  3. Consider how you or your group could demonstrate this each and every day – consider undertaking twice – internal behaviours and client facing behaviours.
  4. Highlight what this value is NOT.
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Through this simple tool, you can develop a behaviour play book, suitable per role, office, jurisdiction or culture if needs be. This should allow your teams to connect and live these values, maintaining consistency and staying true to your values.

An example of a client focused behaviour output for lawyers of the value Transparency may look like:

  • We will be clear about our expected costs upfront, including clearly showcasing our proposed scope of work.
  • We will communicate clearly before undertaking out of scope work, and seek our client’s approval to proceed.
  • We will communicate when things have gone off-track, even if that is our fault.
  • We will ensure our clients know who is working on their matter and [regularly] update them on progress, even if that means communicating that nothing has moved since our last communication.
  • We will seek feedback from our clients, even if we feel uncomfortable about the results. This is important to our business, and will make sure we know what to improve in the future.

If you are able to establish and truly LIVE these values and demonstrate these behaviours, you will have further developed the foundation of a client centric culture.