In the 80’s and 90’s, communicating organisational values followed a similar format…the ‘Rollout’. Corporate values and mission statements were emblazoned on beautifully designed wall posters. Along with the wall posters, employees would usually receive a mouse pad or a coffee mug with the organisational values printed on them. Business cards often had the mission or vision statement printed on the reverse side. They were literally rolled out through the organisation via a communication cascade from the CEO down or the Corporate Affairs team out.
The intention here was good, and some companies did experience success with this. Values and mission statements that were visible at every employee’s work desk and every time they took a sip of their coffee, resulted in many employees being able to recite the corporate values and mission statement. Unfortunately, very few knew what they actually meant.
If the ‘Rollout’ was typified by coffee mugs and mouse pads the next wave, PowerPoint and Town Hall meetings typified the ‘Roadshow’. There was a realisation that the cascade communication approach did not seem to be working for several reasons. The ‘Chinese whispers effect’ would often result in messages about the values being lost in translation. But more importantly, not all leaders had the skill to communicate the values in a way that people could connect with them.
The solution was to get only the executive leadership team out talking to the employees. Due to the vast number of employees, this was done via a variety of ‘Town Hall’ meetings, where members of the executive team would fly into locations around the country delivering the messages of organisational change to a few hundred people at a time. This normally consisted of communicating the reason for the change, what was going to change, the process for change, how the change was going to be measured and how everyone would love their jobs more.
This again had good intention but had limited success. After the execs would fly in with their ‘Are you on the bus or not?’ type talk, they would fly out, and often nothing would change. The reason being that this one-off communication may motivate for a day or a week, but what happens after that? Employees need to be motivated and engaged day-in and day-out…and this is not just the job of the senior executive team but of all leaders.
The evolution of communicating values is not dissimilar to hardware and software. Each new version should bring a better way of operating by offering enhancements and fixing bugs of the past. For organisations to be successful in communicating their values they need to move from the ‘rollout’ mindset to the ‘real thing’ mindset and upgrade from PowerPoint and Town Hall meetings to personal stories and the grapevine.
The organisational grapevine is in every single company, every single employee is part of it, every single employee actively engages in it, and every single employee is impacted by it. Yet, very few organisations give it the attention it deserves. What’s more, if the grapevine was a piece of hardware, the software would be stories. Left unattended, the vast majority of stories in the grapevine are negative. You can’t control the grapevine but you can certainly influence the stories that are fuelling it.
Sharing personal stories around the organisation’s values allows employees to make a personal connection to the value. A good example of this action comes from one of my clients, BUPA, who are a major health provider. Earlier this year they started to communicate their new values and I worked with some of their leaders to help them share personal stories to create connection with the organisational values.
Jenni Coles a director at BUPA Care Services in Auckland, New Zealand shared the following story to communicate ‘extraordinary’ — one of BUPA’s organisational values.
My dad had six young children when he was diagnosed with a severe heart infection. He could have become a cardiac cripple and given up work but he didn’t. He continued to work and support our family for the next 20 years.
Dad was a county engineer and responsible for roads and bridges for a large rural area. Within that area, there were about 100 small old one-lane wooden bridges. These needed to be replaced because they were dangerous for the stock trucks and families, but the county didn’t have sufficient funding to replace them all.
So Dad researched the options and decided the best approach was to replace the bridges with concrete two-lane bridges.
What he did next was extraordinary. He went above and beyond. In our own backyard he built a concrete plant, powered by an engine from a steam train, and got to work creating all the bridge piles and bridge spans for the 100 bridges.
When I think about my dad, a lasting image I have is of him standing beside a truck loaded with the makings of a bridge with a huge smile on this face.
I see my Dad as extraordinary…he battled through severe illness to provide for our family and he followed his desire to ensure our community had safe roads and bridges. Those bridges are still there today and will be for the next 100 years.
We might not be building physical bridges at BUPA but every day we have the opportunity to be extraordinary. To go above and beyond, to be the best we can dream to be—like my Dad did.
Six of Jenni’s colleagues also shared a personal story around each of BUPA’s organisational values. Lizzy Geremia, Head of Internal Communications at BUPA Australia and instigator of introducing storytelling into BUPA said, “What started out as launching a new set of global values through a leadership conference in one pocket of our business, has ended up with a global movement at BUPA to use stories to demonstrate how our people live the values. People now have a much deeper connection with their leaders, who were brave and shared personal stories to get a business message across, but also, there is real passion around using stories much more broadly across the organisation.”
These personal stories should be shared across an organisation’s traditional communication channels but also shared informally which will impact the grapevine. The organisation that understands the power of getting real with communication can experience significant advantages when communicating values.
About the author:
Gabrielle Dolan works across Corporate Australian helping leaders humanise the way the lead by being more ‘real’. Her latest book Ignite: Real leadership, real talk, real results, is available online at all major retailers. To find out more head to www.gabrielledolan.com