Why organisations need to live their values

Does your organisation live by its values? Are they relevant to the day-to-day working lives of employees or are they paying lip service to an ideal world that is very far from your reality?

Last week I saw on Twitter that a business breakfast was being held in London to discuss value based leadership, with guest speakers from HSBC bank and UK chain Marks & Spencer. I asked Simon Hayward, managing partner of Cirrus, who hosted it, to share what happened in the form of a guest article for my blog.

Cirrus is a specialist in leadership development, brand engagement and communications. Simon is currently researching the links between leadership and engagement as part of his Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) at Manchester Business School and tweets @CirrusConnect. Do let him know your thoughts by commenting below or tweeting him. Over to you Simon…

Why organisations need to live their values
Most organisations have a set of values which appear on their website and often on the walls of their offices. It’s generally accepted that values are important, particularly in a tough economic climate.  Trust in organisations (both from employees and customers) is at an all-time low. People want to engage with businesses that have a purpose beyond profit.

It’s quite easy to talk about values. After all, who doesn’t want to be more open, more honest, to have more integrity, to be more trustworthy? And as comms professionals, many of you will have had experiences of communicating what your company says are very positive values, while at the same time knowing that these values are not always lived in practice.

Two organisations who are increasingly aiming to live their values are Marks & Spencer and HSBC. Cirrus has just hosted a breakfast event where we were joined by guest speakers Tanith Dodge, Director of Human Resources at M&S, and Mark Sheridan, Head of HR Europe and Global Commercial Banking at HSBC.

Both shared some fascinating insights and real-life examples of values-based leadership across their own businesses. We also welcomed 150 guests along from a very wide range of leading organisations. We opened with a short, animated introduction which helped spark some great discussion. (You can see the animation at the end of this article – Rachel)

M&S and HSBC both have a rich heritage. At M&S, values are part of the organisation’s DNA. One of the ways M&S is bringing values to life in a very real way is through its commitment to Plan A, with the ultimate goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable major retailer.

Plan A has been a success because it is central to everything that M&S does. Colleagues and customers feel passionately about it.  M&S also places values at the heart of leadership development, and Tanith spoke about the need for leaders to be authentic, to know themselves and to ask themselves why others should want to follow them – particularly in the UK today, where we are experiencing a trust deficit.

Customer-focused values
HSBC was founded on customer-focused values and these values have been at the core of some of its most successful initiatives, such as the launch of the trailblazing First Direct. Values have also helped to provide a focus during HSBC’s rapid expansion. As Mark said, organisations cannot just rely on a rule book: values provide a guide to interacting with customers, and can inspire both customers and employees.

As HSBC seeks to streamline and improve its business practices, it is also increasingly placing values at the heart of decision making. Cirrus is proud to be working in partnership with HSBC on a values-based leadership programme which is having a positive impact on leadership effectiveness. (Would love to know more if you can share with us again in the future Simon as I’m sure other comms pros would be interested to read about the values-based leadership programme – Rachel)

So, what did our guests learn on the day? It’s important that colleagues across the organisation understand the values, engage with them, and place them at the heart of decision-making. Comms professionals play an important part in communicating values and engaging customers and colleagues with them.

Being courageous and influencing others
However, leaders also need to be role models. Their behaviour influences others. Tanith and Mark both talked about the need to be courageous. Anyone in an organisation should feel they can stand up for the values. At times this can be tough. Doing the right thing doesn’t always mean taking the easy path. However, not doing the right thing can have serious consequences – maybe not immediately, but incrementally – as many high-profile corporate scandals have demonstrated.

Post author: Simon Hayward

My thanks Simon for giving us an overview of the event and insight into what was discussed. Have you attended or are you going to something you think comms professionals would enjoy reading about? If so, do check out my guest guidelines and get in touch with your idea, Rachel

P.s. You can see the animation mentioned earlier here:


  1. Lauretta Lamont says:

    Spot on! M&S are hugely inspirational in everything employee and CSR focussed. Thank you for the insights.

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