Embedding organisational values

Luke Smith on how to instill company values during employee training

Gone are the days when the primary value a business could pass onto employees was the idea profit must be made at all costs. This is certainly a move in the right direction. Businesses tend to be stronger when there is a culture based on a set of strong and ethical guiding principles. Contemporary consumers and employees are also more likely to engage with these companies. This commitment to making the world a better place helps make relationships more meaningful.

It’s not difficult to produce a set of values that should drive your company. But applying these consistently and effectively in every element of your operations can be challenging. Simply changing the branding and issuing communications about the new direction isn’t enough. Often the best way to approach this is by embedding company values during employee training.

Make practical connections
A set of values can seem a bit abstract when workers are expected to incorporate them into their jobs. When workers don’t have direct contact with customers, the need to have a customer-first attitude may not always be clear. As such, it’s vital to first make sure your employee training includes guidance on clear practical applications of your values. 

Ask your workers about what they already understand the values to mean and how they apply them to their work.

This begins by providing clarity on the company values at the outset of each training session. Not just on the substance of your set of business ethics that underpin your company’s mission but also the expected attitude toward them. After all, these values can both contribute to your company’s success and demonstrate your integrity to consumers. You want to make certain employees act to both the letter and spirit of your ethical standards at all times. Make this a point of discussion rather than a dictation. Ask your workers about what they already understand the values to mean and how they apply them to their work.

As you then start to introduce the training, make the application of your values a part of each task. Don’t just focus on passing the technical skills. Make sure these are supported by training on the soft skills associated with your values. Help employees understand how their ethical thought processes need to play a part in each technical decision they make. Indeed, it can be important to invite them to talk about where they feel the actions they’re being trained on reflect the company’s ethical standards. Encourage them to suggest how this can be improved.   

Consider employee experience
Too often, the conversation around instilling company values focuses on a blunt approach. In the past, workers have been taught to use a mission as a tool to make the company more money. During the last couple of years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the business world has undergone significant changes. Companies will have to keep adapting to successfully come out the other side of the pandemic. One clear essential aspect of change is that a rise in productivity can rely on cultivating a positive employee experience. Similarly, to embed your company values during training, you should be looking at how these result in a positive experience.  

Perhaps the best way you can achieve this is by making your values have a role in your talent development programme. Work with your company leadership and human resources (HR) personnel to create a programme for progression. Promotions shouldn’t just be based on skills gained but on the application of your company’s values. Make sure managers talk to employees in their reviews about how company ethics demonstrations contribute to their professional success. Provide mentors that exemplify your values and can pass their experiences onto their charges. This helps to give your workers a positive development experience. It also gives workers the keys to unlock a route to becoming empowered leaders.

Instill a sense of ownership
A common stumbling block to embedding company values is helping employees to make a personal connection to them. After all, it can feel as though these elements – values, business ethics, missions – are being forced upon them rather than chosen. It can also be difficult for a worker to buy into a set of ethics if they don’t immediately align with their own. A 2016 Gallup poll found only 27% of employees believed in their company’s values. One helpful approach to addressing this problem during training is to give employees a certain sense of ownership over your company’s values. 

This begins by not simply dictating how values should be applied to behaviour. Guidelines during training help, but it doesn’t tend to lead to your workers feeling especially empowered. Instead, let them take the lead on how they feel the values should be interpreted in the tasks you’re training them on. If you disagree with their assessment, make this a discussion rather than a correction. If you feel they’ve found a route into being productive and asserting the values, make sure they are praised and rewarded for this. Indeed, you can work with them to make this part of future training on the subject with other employees.

Make sure this ownership approach is carried through to other areas of the organisation. Hold regular meetings to discuss the ethics of the company. Employees of all levels of seniority should be included in this. Encourage them to give input about where the values are successful. Allow them space to say where the company is failing in its corporate social responsibility. If they disagree with the application of values, make it clear you want them to be part of the solution. Extend this to how they feel values could be better communicated in employee training going forward, too.

A strong set of company values can help your businesses to thrive. However, to ensure employees apply these consistently, it needs to be part of their training. To be effective in this, you should help workers to understand the practical applications of values-led behaviour. Commit to making ethics a positive part of employees’ working experience. Importantly, by giving them a sense of ownership over these values they can be more likely to both buy into and apply them throughout their career.

Luke Smith is a freelance writer

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