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How to create powerful organisational values

looking through the lens

How do you know if values are valuable?

In a nutshell

  1. Internal values can be a powerful tool in building workplace culture, attracting and retaining top talent, and driving business performance. But only if they're lived
  2. To turn internal values into behaviour, make them Easy to remember - internal values are front of mind, and part of the vernacular.
  3. They also need to be Engaging; people take ownership and pride in pushing themselves to achieve them in their own ways.
  4. And lastly, Exemplified - those who go above and beyond are regularly recognised and celebrated

If an organisation has gone to the effort of defining its internal values, they’ve probably found a home on the website. Maybe they’ve even made it onto the office wall. And new hires and clients might get taken through them.

That’s a good start.

But there’s one question to ask to determine whether internal values are as valuable as they can be – are they lived?

When internal values are lived by an organisation, they help inspire positive behaviours that propel the organisation forward – building workplace culture, attracting and retaining top talent, improving customer experience, and driving business performance.

But turning words into action doesn’t happen by itself.

At TRA, a lot of work has gone into designing our internal culture and making sure our values are something that we live every day.

And it’s paid off.

This year, TRA were awarded third place in the Media and Marketing category in AFR BOSS Best Places to Work Australasia. We’ve attracted diverse talent with low turnover. And achieved strong performance and growth as a result.

Our purpose is to see people get better stuff from the organisations that serve them. And we achieve this purpose through aiming for Clarity, Collaboration, and Creativity across everything we deliver.

It was through looking both inward and at other organisations with powerful internal cultures, that we noticed a pattern. Internal values are most valuable when they deliver to The Three E’s.

Living your values through The Three E’s

To give internal values the best chance of inspiring positive behaviour, aim to make them easy, engaging and exemplified.

Easy to remember and use – because if people can’t remember them, they won’t mean much.

If the values aren’t top of mind there are too many, they’re not distinctive, or people aren’t being exposed to them enough.

Interestingly, they’re all lessons we can learn from advertising effectiveness – keep your message focused, say it in an interesting way that stands out, and aim for fame and reach. The same principles apply to the way you articulate and share your values.

At TRA we’ve only got three, an easy number for people to remember. It’s always a good idea to distill your values down to the smallest number possible.

Secondly, they all start with the same letter. This helps with recall. Beyond alliteration, see if you can say your values in a distinctive way. Facebook’s ‘Move fast and break things is a more memorable way of saying ‘We innovate.’ 

And lastly, we put our values in places where people see them all the time. Beyond the welcome package, they’re across our process documents acting as a constant reminder.

Engaging, because nice-sounding values don’t provoke change

It's too easy to fall into the trap of arriving at values that tick boxes and make everyone feel comfortable. Or as Patty McCord calls them in her now-famous Netflix Culture Deck – ‘nice-sounding values.’

People will nod along with nice-sounding values like Integrity and Respect because they sound like the kind of person they try to be, and the type of company they’d like to work at. But values like these should really go without saying.

As McCord puts it, ‘actual company values are the behaviours and skills that are valued in fellow employees.’ These are the types of values that elevate performance. They’re authentic, but also aspirational. People take pride in rising to achieve them.

At TRA, our internal values meet this definition of being behaviours and skills that elevate performance.

  • There are skills required in converting complexity into elegant simplicity (Clarity).
  • And in getting the most out of people with different disciplines and backgrounds (Collaboration).
  •  Embracing ambiguity and pushing boundaries is also a learned skill (Creativity).

All three require constant learning and growth. We might not always get them perfect, but we do our absolute best.

Exemplified, because recognition and reward are powerful reinforcers

We humans are social creatures - influenced by social norms and the behaviour of others. It’s therefore crucial that people regularly see examples of others living the values.

Leaders must lead by example, embodying values and recognising those who have gone above and beyond.

A great way to do this is through an ongoing tradition where people are recognised in bespoke, genuine, and empathetic ways. Sometimes this can get emotional. And shared emotion and pride take internal culture to the next level.

At TRA, Together O'clock has become a famous tradition at TRA. People nominate each other for living up to the values. There’s an award given out for the top performer on each one and a grand prize for the person who gets the most votes across the board.

The events are fun and strike a balance of being celebratory and leaving people inspired.

Good luck on your journey. It’s worth it.

If you’re refreshing or launching internal values, we hope The Three E’s framework provides a direction for getting started.

But it can also pay to get some outside help too. It can be difficult to pick out what is unique about an organisation when you’re immersed in it.

If you’d like some help in uncovering and defining your internal values, the team at TRA would be more than happy to help.

Let's chat!

Lloyd Thomason
Strategist

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