Most business consultancies are the same. They boast of having great people, strong processes and a customer focus. But scratch the surface and you discover that many are little more than body shops providing clients with top-up labour and skills. But what about the values those people bring? Do they matter?
It turns out that values matter a lot.
Australian companies are facing unprecedented challenges. Startups are snapping at their heels. Global conglomerates are swallowing up potential competition and geographical barriers are rapidly being broken by technology. Businesses have to completely change the way they work in order to remain relevant.
We’re seeing the rise of trillion dollar mega companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Alibaba across the world. These entities have more capital and political influence than many governments. They don’t worry about legislation. They enter markets and compel legislation changes to suit their business models, backed by the intent and capital to outlast the justice system in a battle of wills.
We’re also seeing unprecedented levels of venture capital as start-ups look to take advantage of the burden of legacy, targeting niche and highly profitable customer segments with tailored offerings.
We know that when we are courageous and do our job well we can reshape organisations to compete in this challenging environment. But we have to meet people where they are and be pragmatic to coach them on the journey that we’ve been through, rather than just trying to shove what we know down their throats.
Our customers want to be more customer-centric and create cultures where people have agency and autonomy. They want a culture that attracts the best talent. They want to be customer-centric and nimble. That’s the sort of change that a traditional “body shop” approach to business consultancy can’t deliver.
Many consultancies bring people into the organisation, use them up, and cast them off when they don’t have work for them. You can’t make impactful change with that sort of ethos. People need to know that they can take risks and that there will be a safety net. Nothing new was ever created without introducing an element of risk.
And that’s why values matter.
At Elabor8 we wanted to find a way to ensure the culture we created for ourselves, and shared with clients, became codified so that as we scaled as a business we would remain true to the values upon which we were founded.
In order to understand our culture, it was important that everyone in the organisation had an opportunity to craft the values of the organisation as they saw them. Culture doesn’t come from just the owners or the leaders. It’s something that everyone participates in. Through a collaborative process we landed on four key values:
We are Human First
We are Courageous and Pragmatic
We are Proud of our Craft
We are Committed to Community
We ‘ate our own dog food’ and developed the values using design studio concepts. For instance, during one workshop, we asked our people to design t-shirts that visually represented what the words meant to them. What we learned is that our business is about a lot more than tools and methodologies. We unconsciously had a common set of values that inform how we act.
Recently, a large telco examined its leadership culture and said its leaders were going to become ‘servant leaders’. But the talk didn’t match their actions. During a fire drill employees had to file down 30 or 40 flights of stairs. The management team, who was aware of the drill, sat at a coffee shop and watched people exit the building. The values they spoke of weren’t reflected in their actions.
Values aren’t just platitudes on a plaque that hangs over the reception desk. They require action and are codified through consistent behaviour.
In a business, you have decisions to make where you need to balance commerciality and human issues. Codifying our values allows us to challenge ourselves: “Are we being human first with that decision?”; “Are we being courageous enough?”; “Are we being pragmatic here?”; “Have we considered enough perspectives?”
When we’re talking about the piece of work we’re doing there are often lots of opportunities to water down language or soften things in order to protect someone’s reputation or to make sure that we don’t stir the pot – to do the political thing rather than the impactful thing. But by codifying our values, we have a language that enables people to challenge things in a safe and respectful way.
When we are true to our values we fundamentally shift workplaces. We change the culture, the business outcomes, and we build sustainable enterprises that will survive in a new world.