Wherever you stand on the impending US election result, it’s likely that you’re emotionally invested in the outcome.
That’s partly because, when we vote for a particular person or party, we’re casting a vote for what we believe in. It can feel very personal – do they value what I value? Do they believe and stand for what I do?
And politicians know this:
“The character of the country is on the ballot. Our character is on the ballot. Look at us closely,” said Joe Biden in the last Biden-Trump head-to-head debate.
It turns out that it’s not just our politicians’ values that we’re looking at closely.
Increasingly, prospective employees and customers are scrutinising organisations to understand their values.
“Candidates are seeking workplaces where they can intertwine their beliefs with those of the company, and work together on a common vision of purpose and success.” Harvard Business Review, April 2020
If your client’s values are just a list of generic words on a career page (let me guess - collaborative, innovative, integrity and customer-centric?), then it might be time to consider a rewrite.
So how can you help them?
Well, there are three ways companies tend to write their values:
Option 1 is most common, and easiest to remember for employees. But a list of attributes hardly gets your heart racing, and it’s difficult to choose ones that are distinctive.
Typically, companies don’t pick more than 6 or 7 attributes, but Netflix has 10 – and breaks each one down into at least 5 bullet points.
Here's an example of one of them:
Option 2 is more is more directive, using commands.
For example, Facebook ask their employees to:
Be Bold, Focus on Impact, Move Fast, Be Open and Build Social Value.
Under each one they break down what they mean.
For example, in directing employees to 'Focus on Impact', they explain,
‘To have the biggest impact, we need to focus on solving the most important problems. It sounds simple, but most companies do this poorly and waste a lot of time. We expect everyone at Facebook to be good at finding the biggest problems to work on.’
CISCO too, takes the command to control approach, asking their employees to Change the World, Focus Intensely on Customers, Make Innovation Happen, Win Together, Respect and Care for Each Other and Always Do the Right Thing.
And like the others, they list out the supporting behaviours under each.
The third option is to express beliefs.
Take this example from Google:
Expressing commands or beliefs allows you to express your culture more creatively and distinctly than a list of attributes, but they are less easy to remember.
There’s always a trade-off between distinctiveness, authenticity, understanding and memorability and there’s no right or wrong answer.
So how do you know which ones to write?
Well, that’s where research comes in – not only internally, looking at the company heritage, stories, and engaging employees across the business, but also exploring values and preferences in customer research. You also need to look at competitors – as I talked about here.
And all of this should be assessed as part of your brand strategy.
‘Values’ are your answer to WHO you are and HOW you do things, but they sit alongside, and need to support, WHY you exist. (Learn more about this in my free Brand Strategy mini course).
Overall, my number 1 tip is to write something that feels like the place you’re writing it for. It's much better to get the whole brand strategy in meaningful client words, representing the type of brand and culture they have, their heritage, and the type of people who work there, than trying to write this in some sort of grammatically polished, but inauthentic way.
Being authentic can even mean sacrificing immediate clarity and understanding for a phrase that opens the door to a meaningful story about the company.
In the meantime, hold dear what you value, and value what you hold dear. Don’t underestimate the importance of values for employee and customer engagement, and don’t forget to think about them as part of your overall brand strategy.
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