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Values Strategy Behaviour

Behaviours Eat Values for Breakfast

The Maverick Group

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June 29, 2021 | 5 min read

Jamie Chadwick is Head of Strategy at The Maverick Group

Jamie Chadwick is Head of Strategy at The Maverick Group

This is a short opinion piece about why I think the obsession with brand values is flawed and what we should do instead. And thankfully because this is an opinion piece, I don’t have to be right.

If you only have 60 seconds read this paragraph:

The most successful organisations focus on really simple core behaviours that everyone from top to bottom learns and applies to everything they do. These core behaviours create a strong, shared culture that ensure customers get a consistent experience. People find it easy to learn them, because we’ve spent our entire lives learning through behaviours. In contrast values are abstract, hard to apply to our everyday working lives and far too easy for any brand and organisation to talk about. That is why we see the same sets of values everywhere. Which means they create no real value.

Organisations perform better when everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing

It sounds obvious, but don’t take my word for it. Patrick Lencioni writing in the Harvard Business Review back in the early noughties suggested that successful organisations didn’t just tell everyone to pursue success and profitability. They told them “this is what we do and this is how we do it”. And they made this way of doing things unique to that organisation. It underpinned their culture and identity. It became an organisational DNA that supported strategic decision making. And above all it enabled every employee and stakeholder to understand how they fitted in and how what they did mattered.

Great theory I hear you say. But what does that actually mean in practice?

Behaviours are a universal language

How do we learn as little kids? Through behaviours. We learn how to play with other kids, how to eat our food and how to cross the road without getting hit by a bus. In the same way smart organisations talk about desired behaviours. Behaviours around a specific task, to work with colleagues, to deal with customers.

Aligning the organisation around a positive set of core behaviours has many advantages as well as the fact that it builds on the earliest, most fundamental way in which we learn and understand.

Behaviours are relatively easy to define and simple to explain. Because they can be linked to real-life, everyday activities and scenarios. This also makes them easier to monitor and correct or encourage as appropriate.

Behaviours are universal. They link and unite everyone in the organisation from the CEO to the most junior person. From the person who started yesterday to the one who’s been there 30 years.

Behaviours are objective and concrete. There’s not much room for debate or interpretation. So they remove much of the potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication that is the biggest killer of customer satisfaction.

Behaviours can evolve and change. We know what works best today won’t necessarily be what’s best tomorrow. But when you organise around behaviours that’s ok, because people understand it when you say “we need to stop doing it this way and start doing it this way”.

Behaviours make it easier for businesses to walk the walk

Importantly behaviours can be seen in the actions of others, especially senior management. This is the best way for the organisation to come across as credible and to lead from the front. And if the senior team is embracing the desired behaviours of the business, then it is far easier to convince the wider employee base to follow suit. This alignment ultimately is reflected in a consistent and positive customer experience

If building around behaviours makes so much sense why do most organisations still build around values?

How many times have we seen organisations and brands talk about integrity, diversity, boldness, accountability, loyalty, transparency, customer-centricity, sustainability?

What the hell does it mean to be bold? Does that tell a customer service agent what to do when somebody is shouting at them? And do you really want to instil that in a new delivery driver?

Sure, the idea of values seems great in theory. They also look really good in investor presentations and on the website. And you can put them on the walls in the workplace. But I guarantee there’s nothing like a new shiny set of core values to make an entire organisation beyond the C-suite and the marketing department roll their eyes in unison. Yet despite this, values are still seen as an essential piece of the brand strategy toolkit. In truth, they are usually a meaningless tick-box exercise that have no beneficial impact upon the organisation.

Above all, they’re never unique to one organisation. The reason you recognise all the values is because everybody uses them. So really, what’s the point of values when they have zero value?

Maybe then it’s time to do things a little differently? Something that allows brands and organisations to demonstrate their individuality. Something that might mean a few less eye-rolls when the new brand strategy is launched.

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