One of our major projects over the last year has been to re-evaluate our company values and behaviours. Some people may think of this as more of a “nice to do” and I know that some of our staff thought it a bit “fluffy” to start with, but in my view it’s been our most important initiative this year, because our values frame everything that everyone at Fordway does now and into the future. Over 50 per cent of our staff joined within the last two years and all have been recruited to realise the “new Fordway” vision. The last time we had really looked into our company values was over five years ago. I believe that irrespective of what your organisation provides, every business is a people business. Businesses succeed or fail on culture – if you get it right, it sustains you in the long term, helping you attract and retain the right staff and showing potential customers what it would be like to do business with you. We’ve always been slightly different in our approach from most IT companies. Informally I often call us “the awkward squad” – although some of my colleagues think that gives the wrong impression. What I mean is that we don’t take things at face value, but ask our customers difficult questions and challenge assumptions. Our customers trust us to give them independent, honest advice and to work with them to find the optimum solution for their needs. Our company values support and drive our business vision and our goals on a daily basis. Our approach has served us well so far and as we continue to grow and Fordway evolves into new areas, all staff need to know what we stand for. We wanted to keep the good stuff that made us what we are today, while recognising and stopping the bad stuff that could hold us back. We wanted to collectively determine the behaviours which our organisation would and would not accept. So it was vital that all our staff participated to ensure that they “bought in” right from the start. This meant I had to step back and trust everyone else in the business to come up with company values which would help us succeed. The process involved a mix of individual interviews and group workshops. They were facilitated by our head of business support and an external consultant, but ultimately it was our staff who defined our company values, what they mean to us, and the associated complementary behaviours that would help the organisation succeed. We managed to have a meeting with practically every member of staff. The sessions were informative, fun and sometimes a bit tricky. But that’s how they were supposed to be. The outcome, we hope, is a better understanding of the barriers to success and the behaviours needed to overcome them in daily working life at Fordway. We arrived at three core company values. The first is “stronger together”, which defines that our team can achieve far more working collectively than any of us can individually. It also means we help each other, listen to each other and importantly, keep our promises. “Great results every time” ensures that we use our breadth and wealth of experience for each of our clients, and importantly to our staff it also means properly finishing what we start and always having a plan. Our third value is “adapt and thrive”, which ensures we continually challenge the status quo and look for new and innovative ways to address the issues we and our clients face. It means being curious and speaking up too. It helps us avoid Einstein’s definition of insanity, which I re-quote endlessly. If you do the same as you’ve always done you will get the same results you always got – so if you aren’t improving, try changing what you do to get better results. As a result of our discussions with staff, we decided to include these values in everyone’s individual development plans. We’re also looking at how we can use them in our interviews, which is still a work in progress, and to guide internal meetings. Rather than have a separate, sometimes stilted, discussion about “we help each other” or similar, the operational management team have found that we use them organically during meetings. We then highlight, in the meeting minutes, where they have been used or have helped us to make a decision. The point of having company values is that they work for us and our customers and empower our staff to have more confidence to take decisions for themselves knowing they won’t be criticised for taking them, allowing them to grow. We’ll soon be holding an update session with everyone in Fordway where they can tell us what’s working and what isn’t, so we can continue to improve. These values must become embedded in everyone’s behaviour, so that they simply become “the way we do things around here”. We’ve also found that having clearly defined values, and openly presenting them, is making a difference in our discussions with potential customers. Large organisations which have already gone through this process are clear what each stand for, and want to do business with others which have similar values. So although it’s required a massive commitment in time and resource, I know it’s been a key part of positioning Fordway for our future growth.
This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.
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