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Victoria Barraclough, Strategic Internal Communications Manager within the Corporate Banking Division of RBS, provides insights on how to get employees behind organisational values..

Values ­ embed them properly and they can unite an organisation, fail and they are seen as just another Head Office gimmick.

Employee engagement is crucial to turn values from words into actions. Employees need to understand what the values mean in practice and how they fit with the organisation’s strategy. Many of them will be cynical having seen new initiatives come and go, and overcoming this ‘campaign fatigue’ is crucial to getting their buy in.

As communicators we can support engagement by providing feedback channels so that employees can share their thoughts, questions and examples of the values. But what else can we do to bring the values to life for employees?

Here are some tips that I have found useful as I’ve worked to establish values in a business.

1. Consult your employees on what they think the values of the organisation should be

This is a key step. Unless you ask your employees for their views you run the risk that what works for your management team doesn’t resonate with your employees. Developing the values with a representative cross-section of the organisation also sends a clear message that the values are not a top-down initiative and sets the tone for future communications.

When you’re asking managers to nominate attendees for these focus groups, specify that you don’t just want the usual suspects who’ll toe the line - you need to have robust discussions. Focus group attendees will become some of your earliest advocates and can help win over cynical employees so keep in touch with them and let them know how their input has shaped the campaign.

2. Showcase endorsement of the values from your leadership team

Employees will always look to their leaders to see if they support a new initiative. Words are not enough ­ employees need to see their leaders as role models who put the values into action. This doesn’t just mean talking about the values in their town hall sessions, but also making decisions that align with the values. Ensure that your broader leadership group also has the opportunity to debate what the values mean for them as leaders, and to discuss how they will make them relevant for their teams.

3. Demonstrate how the values underpin the organisational strategy

Values can be seen as warm and fluffy - it’s important that employees understand how the values help to deliver the organisation’s strategy. You can achieve this by using tangible examples of how the values have supported business success, especially in core strategic communications such as financial results messages.

4. Provide teams with the tools to discuss what the values mean to them

To develop a good understanding about what the values mean, employees need a safe environment where they can ask questions and challenge. Holding peer-to-peer discussions is a great way to do this and ensures that teams develop a shared understanding. From this solid base they can then start to think about how they will demonstrate the values in their roles and any changes that need to be made to the way they work. Clear, structured briefing packs for line managers outlining the purpose of the session with key discussion points work well and allow managers to adapt the content to make it relevant for their team.

5. Celebrate existing examples of how people are living the values in their daily roles

Employees need to know what’s expected of them. Often values are based around abstract concepts like ‘integrity’ and this can be difficult to translate into employees’ everyday roles. Giving them examples of how people are doing this already will help them understand what the values really mean and inspire them to look at the way they work. Examples don’t have to be high-profile - this isn’t about revolutionising the way you work, but about small, incremental changes. An employee is far more likely to take action after reading about a colleague who’s made a small change that they could implement than from reading about the impacts of a large- scale change programme.

These are just the first steps; embedding organisational values doesn’t happen overnight. Get it right and the values will become the golden thread running through your organisation and your communications in the long term.

Keep an eye on our LinkedIn company page for notifications of new 'nuts and bolts' pieces - designed to assist practitioners with some of the most common practical implementation issues.
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