Five steps to putting your business values to work

In the final installment of a four-part series on creating belonging in your business, the DBA’s John Scarrott talks to the co-founders of consultancy Bow&Arrow about how they embedded their values in the business.

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This is the final piece in a four-part series about how to create a sense of belonging at your creative business. We’ve been focusing on the journey of Bow & Arrow, seen through the eyes of co-founders Natasha Chetiyawardarna and Ben Slater and their team of 34.

We’ve looked at how to create values and this last instalment is about what you do with your values once you’ve developed them, and how they can be the engine that drives your success.

After a group workshop, in which Bow & Arrow’s vision, values and behaviours were born, the next question for Natasha and Co was: “How do we integrate this into our business?”.

Step 1 – Sense-check

The team at Bow & Arrow meet every Monday morning as a group, and two weeks after the vision and values workshop, the partners asked them questions to get a discussion going and get the values written up:

Q1: Is this what we all agree on?

Q2: Do the measures make sense?

Q3: Do they reflect our intentions and interests?

Step 2 – Connecting values to the people to drive the business

The team agreed on the values and their measurements, and also that these values would form part of their objectives and individual KPIs. “This showed that we were taking what we did seriously – and that we wanted to have actions associated with it,” says Natasha.

Step 3 – Use of the value KPIs in appraisals

At Bow & Arrow the staff reviews are qualitative and quantitative. The individual’s KPIs are based on their performance within the business, their people development and their creative and strategic work – but first, come the values. Here’s an example:

Value: We look after each other as well as we look after ourselves.

Example belief: “The new person is the most important person.”

What that looks like: So I proactively take responsibility for new people, welcoming them, getting to know them and going the extra mile to support them; whether I’m working directly with them or not.

Step 4 – Use of the value KPIs to recruit

Values make everything much more tangible for Bow & Arrow. They enable them to ask: “Is this person a good fit for our culture?” You can use your instinct, but it can seem somewhat vague especially when discussing and explaining your decision to someone else.

With values in place, you have a way of quantifying, and qualitatively expressing, what you’re looking for with far more certainty. You can examine how someone has behaved in the past and compare this with your values. This tells you far more accurately whether this person is right for your company. It’s easier to recruit. Here’s an example:

Value: We say what we really think and feel

Example belief: “Be the positive energy in the room.”

What that looks like: “What about this person says they’ll be the positive energy in the room?” How do they talk about their previous company?

You know what “good” and your version of good in particular, looks like. And it’s a collective good. It’s about what everyone thinks, it’s not handed down from the senior management team.

Step 5 – Use of the value KPIs to develop staff

Value KPIs allow you to give accurate feedback which is much more valuable in terms of developing your people. Natasha talked to me about the fact that it was more difficult to give qualitative feedback before the values were developed.

For example in feeding back to someone on needing to be more confident, saying “You need to be more confident” would not be useful or specific enough. But what does that mean?

Having three or four values that relate to confidence means she is able to be far more specific and therefore give more useful feedback. A value exchange takes place. The business gets value out of the person – and the person gets value from the interaction and a clearer understanding of where and how they need to develop their skills.

A couple of questions about the values

• Do the values leave with those that made them?

A few years after developing the vision and values, when you look around and see that there were many people in the room that hadn’t been around to create the values, do the new people think: “this isn’t mine”. What happens is that the values remain valid to everyone because they are the compass for the business. They guide the recruitment process and help to develop and progress people once they’re on board.

• If everything is peachy, do people still leave?

Of course, people grow and change all the time. Natasha says: “I’m not naive enough to think people can only come here if they want to be here forever, that’s unrealistic. But we do want Bow & Arrow to be the best experience of their careers. The values play a key role in making that outcome a reality.”

Natasha’s advice on the process of getting values in place

• Act quickly – don’t let the results of the discussion sit around on a shelf.

• Present it back to each other – let everybody in, and what you create is everybody’s.

• Take the conversation above the day-to-day – don’t make what you create about the people in the room. Take it a level above that.

• Set deadlines – don’t spend days in being theoretical, or noodling one word.

Final thoughts

Natasha didn’t realise the impact that incorporating values into KPIs would have. That it would remove “gut feel” as the modus operandi and replace it with something tangible that could be seen and felt by everyone.

In two months Bow & Arrow had revolutionised the way they set their objectives and redesigned their review system by building it around the values. It took effort and commitment to fit this in around the daily work of client relationships and getting the work done. But this work was crucial to their professionalisation as a business.

So what about you? Are you ready to discover who you are and transform your business?


Discover more:

• How to create belonging in your business – a real-life example

Starting on the right foot – how to get your business set-up right

Setting up your design business and uncovering your values


John Scarrott is membership director at the Design Business Association. He Tweets at @DBAScarrott.

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