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19 Mar 2018

Digital Economy Insights: The Leader's Role in Driving Company Values

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Company values and culture are today critically important to the bottom line success of any company. In the hyper-competitive digital economy, they are as important as salary in attracting and retaining the best talent. And this culture and values has to come from the very top.

But, incredibly, over a third of leaders don’t support their own company’s values, according to the findings of our eighth edition of the Propel Salary and Digital Insights Survey.

Our report found 73% of companies to have a defined set of company values and, of people who work in such companies, 85% of them believe that they understand what those values are.

But only 72% of respondents believe that those companies communicate these values effectively. 26% said they didn’t believe staff supported their company’s values and 33% said their leaders didn’t.

With nearly half (42%) of respondents having turned down a job due to the company’s culture and values, something is clearly awry.

The problem is that while company value and culture may be recognised as important, actually creating, developing and maintaining them isn’t always straightforward.

Lessons in leadership

In the second in our Digital Economy Insights series, we talked to some of our industry’s most successful leaders to understand the role leaders should play in this arena.

When asked what role leaders should play in driving company values, Twitter VP Europe Bruce Daisley, who runs the Eat Sleep Work Repeat podcast, was almost affronted. “Hang on. How is this even up for debate? If leaders aren't living the values of a company then either the values are wrong, or the leader is wrong,” he says.

Elizabeth Varley, founder and CEO of TechHub, the global community for tech entrepreneurs, is another fierce proponent of the need for company leaders to openly live their company's values. 

“People on our team have told me they can be more themselves at work here than at any other job and don’t have to have a ‘work me’,” she says. “That authenticity is an important part of our company culture. As a leader, being openly and genuinely myself shows the team that they can be too. Everyone here knows I’m bisexual, knows I have polyamorous relationships, knows my social values and why what we do as a company is important to me. Now more than ever people are attracted to jobs where they can make a difference and aren’t just profit-making machines. Leaders need to embody that.”

Another high-profile industry leader is Paul Frampton, previously CEO of Havas Media Group. Currently on gardening leave, he is Chair of Big Youth Group and runs a vlog on company culture and purpose, Frampton Unplugged (https://youtu.be/1jNXF5nEvBE).

The embodiment of company culture

He believes it is imperative that culture is lived by the leadership team, being an embodiment of the behaviour of both the leadership team and the organisation.

“If a leadership team has done a good job of clearly setting the company purpose (why it exists and why everyone comes to work each day) and cascading down values, then people throughout the organisation will know how to behave in any given situation,” he says. “Most companies have too many values. The average seems to be five to seven but that is too many for most people to remember. It should be 2 or 3 values maximum that differentiate the business and its reason for existence.”

Sarah Wood, CEO, Unruly and author of Stepping Up, a leadership manifesto on transforming business culture, agree with Frampton that the benefit of a value-led culture is that it “reaches the places you cannot.”

“You can’t be in every meeting, making every decision and on top of every project. Many things will — and must — happen that you will never see or hear about (unless something goes wrong!) so a core part of any leadership journey is shaping a culture that can help you do your job when you’re not there to do it,” she says. “Company values shaped by a leadership mission are where culture starts but cannot be where it ends. Culture is how these live and grow within your organisation and among your people.”

We have to hope that by the time the ninth edition of our survey rolls off the presses, that shocking figure of a third of leaders not supporting their own values will have been dramatically reduced. After all, the alternative is that the financial value of their company could be equally dramatically reduced.

Download the full report here. 

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