The concept of an organisation identifying their ‘core values’ has been around for decades, and for good reason.
In his research, culminating with the book ‘Built to Last’ Jim Collins analysed those iconic business that have dominated their industries and continue to do so, sustainably, over decades. He found that to go from being a good organisation to a great one, and stay there, a common feature was that these organisations have an underlying set of core values that do not change. Everything else about the business is open to change, be it practices, strategies or structures; but the values remain constant.
Core values that make a difference to a business are authentic descriptions of the founding principles the business operates by. Often they are a reflection of the personal values or principles of the founding member(s) of the business. A true ‘core value’ is something that is undeniably present in the way decisions are made. They are not aspirational, they are actual.
When you get it right you will find your people feel a strong sense of purpose in their work. What happens everyday and what the business is striving for align. Actions are connected to desired outcomes.
The answer is no. What matters is that they genuinely reflect the way the business is, and that they never waiver. They are preserved over time. The organisation is passionately committed to them and makes its decisions based on the guiding principles of the values.
For our business, this was an exercise of determining what the common themes were in the way we had been operating, not an exercise of describing what we thought we should be doing. It took a good while, and a few versions to really set in on what we felt truly described our business culture. Jim Collins offers a tool to help with this here, if you are familiar with his work it will make sense, if not read Good to Great first.
We lived with a set of 5 for a few years and tested their validity over that time by continuously asking all our people to give examples of where they see the values lived across the business and within their own work.
What we found was that we actually have six.
At Invest Blue we have six core values. These values articulate the rules by which we ‘play the game’ of working here.
We are a business that is passionate about helping people realise their goals and dreams so that they can live their best possible life. That is the common thing underpinning why we all come to work and what drives us to do our best for our clients, our teams and our business. Because of that, it makes sense that our values focus on our clients and their success and that we have a very diligent and disciplined approach to our work. Our values are:
When you believe you have your values articulated, the next step is to watch how everyone works to test that they are accurate. You also need to ensure that your business processes allow for the values to persevere.
In our business, we have a few key ways to ensure our values are lived and to keep an eye on things. Here are a few of the things we do:
Each person who has a role in leading a team within the business is held to account with the core values. Their decisions and actions are put under the core value lens to ensure that they align.
Our value of ‘elated clients’ is something we can measure. We survey our clients routinely throughout the advice process and engage an external research firm to undertake an annual review of how our clients are feeling about the work we do. We define ‘elated’ by meeting the industry benchmark for ‘top performing’ practices.
One of the most enjoyable values to live is the ‘celebrate the wins’. When we see our clients living their best life, achieving the goals they have set for themselves, we are over the moon. We like to honour these successes by sharing the client’s story around the business, on our website and in an annual client stories book.
We talk about our values, and how our decisions align all the time. Any one person in the business would be able to cite the values. When we roll out a new initiative or discuss our performance, it is always put in the context of our values. We also talk about it in passing as a way to describe outstanding effort or a favour done by a colleague.
When we are on track with our projects or goals, we hold ‘celebrate the wins’ events. It might be a dinner out, or a hit of tennis. This is something that allows us to recognise achievement and come together as a team, region or business. This investment in time reaps infinite rewards as it preserves our unifying culture and develops relationships across our 9 locations.
Every year we come together as a whole business with our families – we call it the annual Invest Blue family Christmas trip, and it is a bit of a reunion. This is something we all contribute to, and the wonderful benefit is getting to know each other’s families, and for our families to get to know our colleagues. It also brings our whole business together under one roof which has incredible flow on effects as we go back to work with each other over multiple locations.
Our annual awards recognise those who excel at living the values. This is a peer nominated set of awards and a wonderful chance to shine the spotlight on many quiet achievers. We also have quarterly awards that recognise individuals who have lived all core values. These awards are quite special and prestigious amongst our people, something to strive for.
We operate with full transparency and every person in the business is encouraged to contribute to our strategy development and execution through working groups, an online “light it up” suggestions forum, routine feedback surveys and quarterly planning sessions. This means as a business we have input from all voices and it allows us to continually monitor what we do and how we work and to think differently about our approach.
Each quarter, as part of a discussion about their role and performance, every individual meets with their manager and must provide a series of examples of how they have lived the core values. Living the values is a key determinant of success in a role. If someone is performing on all key metrics strongly, but not acting in a way that aligns with all the core values, they will be considered to be underperfoming.
We are near-on evangelistic about our culture and doggedly determined to retain our core values as we grow and work towards our dream of serving 6,000 elated clients. The benefits to this commitment and investment are many and varied, some quantitative, many qualitative. Some include:
Don’t take my word for it – here is how our people feel about the values. Each year as part of our People Yearbook, we ask everyone to tell us how they feel about our core values:
Elated Clients: “It’s always great and uplifting when you hear from a client that we are making a difference in their life.” Luke Bowler, Financial Adviser
No Excuses: “I love it because that is how I live my life and I have now found a like-minded group to work with. I love the feeling afterwards of the achievement of pushing through the uncomfortable pain” Tony Martin, Financial Adviser
Think Differently: “This is, for me, the most dynamic and the most diverse of all core values. It is to encourage everyone that no matter how small or big your ideas are, it matters.” Leah De Guzman, Administrative Assistant
Take the lead: is inspirational not only for our People, but I encourage this value on my children and clients.” David French, Financial Adviser
Celebrate the Wins: “I think it’s so unique and special the way the business puts such an emphasis on recognising the culmination of everyone’s hard work and I feel as though it breeds a strong worth ethic and culture of togetherness.”
We are family (this is always our most popular value): I really love being part of this amazing group of people and it makes me want to be the best person I can personally and professionally. Carol O’Shea, Lending Credit Adviser
I’ll give the last words to our People and Culture Manager, Kasey Patterson:
“Everything we do as a business is focused on achieving our Big Dream of 6,000 elated clients. By taking the lead, having a no excuses attitude, by challenging ourselves to think differently, by working together as a family and celebrating our successes along the way we will achieve our Big Dream and have elated clients.”
We know we wouldn’t be where we are today without a strong internal culture. WE also know it has flow on effects and positively impacts our clients as well. So how do you go about replicating this important element in business? A great set of core values have this in common: