Effective governance needs to be developed by both strong heads and strong hearts. If the Chair, CEO, and board members don’t lead the board and the organisation with strong values, why should anyone else in the organisation do their job in the right way? There is a need to ensure focus on the common good rather than on self-interest. A values driven organisation has measures of success that include the well-being of all of its people, and the role of managers shifts in balance towards empowerment and support, and away from control.
In order to be useful, values need to be authentic, shared, remembered and lived by everyone involved. The culture of each part of the organisation shouldn’t depend on the manager in post at the time.
A positive cohesive corporate culture should be developed on the framework of an inspiring vision and carefully chosen values.
Practical steps to building such a culture include:
- Set a strong and inspiring vision from the boardroom – an exciting statement of the desired future that leadership intends to create, and the positive difference the work will make (eg) ‘to organise all of the data in the world and make it accessible to everyone in a useful way’ (Google).
- Choose a short focused list of values (eg) Harley Davidson – be fair, tell the truth, keep your promises, respect the individual, encourage intellectual curiosity. They should support the vision and mission, and have input from people at all levels in the organisation. Cross-departmental project groups are a useful way of getting buy-in from various teams and levels, and developing a sense of ownership by those involved.
- Tease out what each of the words means in practice, to ensure that everyone in the organisation knows how they need to behave to align with them.
- Share the vision and values with everyone, in creative ways – a poster in the boardroom, graffiti by staff in the canteen, pop-up reminders on the intranet. Remind people often, and in different ways. Seek feedback on them.
- Ensure team leaders and managers are trained and developed to give useful feedback to their team members, based on the values. They need to frequently recognise positive behaviours and nip any inappropriate actions in the bud before they become habits. When people really buy into the organisation’s values, everyone becomes mutually accountable.
- Integrate the vision and values into all processes – recruitment, induction, performance reviews – for everyone including the chair of the Board, the Chief Executive, the receptionist, the cleaner…
- Ensure that people are aware of the rewards and sanctions that result from driving positive corporate culture (or undermining it). Reward should relate to what people do and also how they do it.
It’s not the piece of paper that matters. It’s the conversations, and the development processes that really build trust and a sense of community across the organisation. The board has a key role in leading by example. In order to do that it needs to:
- Recruit board members with the ethics and ability to support and challenge appropriately.
- Make board training, development and reflection part of the culture, not just an occasional lecture. Briefing papers, site visits, away days, facilitated board workshops, all serve to build trust through active listening and healthy conversations.
- Invest time in this – it pays dividends.
- Evaluate and improve – a learning board, which seeks independent feedback, and evaluates the individuals and committees to which it delegates, will be a catalyst for a learning organisation – that gets results.
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