Building Societies success – it’s all in the values

Over and above the obvious chaos wrought by the pandemic, there is another legacy – a change in the way we relate to the world of work and a shift in our value system. This shift is one that can only be of advantage to Building Societies, Cooperatives and Mutuals.

This is partly the rise of programmes such as Survey Monkey – they make running a research initiative so cheap and easy, that even someone with no experience can seemingly run a competent exercise. And therein lies the problem, if you don’t fully understand research, if you don’t know your ‘qual’ from your quant, your ‘whats?’ from your ‘whys?’ or your questionnaire from your discussion guide, how can you be expected to create, run and analyse a meaningful piece of research. One which will tell you precisely what you need to know and help you make right decisions for your organisations going forward?

Have you ever got frustrated filling in a questionnaire? If you’re like me, five point scales included, or not, I find that as soon as a survey steers away from purely factual questions into the more emotive, I want to give up. My answers just don’t fit so, I end up approximating or just rushing through, providing any old answer. That kind of research is no more helpful than no research at all.

With our environment constricted, we began to change our focus. We spent more time in our homes and consequently invested more in them – online sales of home improvement and gardening retail products grew by almost 50 percent in 2020 over 2019.

Bereft of our normal daily interaction with colleagues, friends and family we took the time to get to know our neighbours – witness the growth in neighbourhood WhatsApp groups – and generally became more community minded, with over 10 million Brits volunteering at the height of the pandemic.

This reassessment of our working lives and a re-alignment of our values appears to be a universal phenomenon. As people were forced to live quieter lives with just their immediate families, many have reassessed their relationship with work – some wanting to find jobs that reflect their viewpoint and allow them more time for their hobbies and interests. COVID is fundamentally changing all our lives, inspiring us to look at what’s essential and what’s not. This emphasis on values and a determination to work in an organisation with a value system that reflects your own is not new – it has been a clearly discernible trend amongst millennials ever since they began entering the workplace. Unlike their parents’ generations, millennials are more ‘value’ than purely ‘financial’ driven – work is just one facet of their life which is balanced amongst a range of other interests. As they now represent some 35% of the workforce it is not surprising, given the Covid induced reassessment, that this value focus shift is gathering pace.

Pre-pandemic it would have been unheard of for Goldman Sachs interns to stage a protest at working conditions and hours – the world of high finance has long been seen as place of huge rewards provided you accept the downside, namely little sleep. That’s a perfectly valid trade-off and one which some people are willing to take but seemingly not those currently in the lower rungs of Goldman Sachs in New York. They no doubt comprise the academic high-flyers from the recent outcrop of leading world-class universities. However, if Goldman Sachs had added a values-based element to their recruitment policy they would have had a better chance of getting the right intake – not just the brightest but those who share the organisation’s work philosophy.

So how does all this relate to Building Societies?

With their mutual status, location-based heritage and community focus, building societies are in a great position to develop a motivating proposition and set of values that will attract high calibre recruits (of all ages) who want their place of work to be an extension, not a contradiction to their personal value system.

An organisation’s corporate culture rests on its values and it is ultimately this culture which can make the difference on the bottom line. Values are what determine an organisation’s behaviour – how it treats its people, its customers, its suppliers – and there is a strong link between a positive culture where staff are engaged and business success.

Organisations where staff endorse the culture and values are more engaged, more productive and stay longer. When you think that it costs a year’s salary to recruit a middle manager, the economic argument for a compelling value system is clear. 

And the benefits go on – organisations with engaged staff tend to have more loyal customers and sell more. So, not only will a strong value system help you save money and create a more stable working environment it will also help you make money.

Walking the walk

Building societies are in a strong position as far as creating a motivating corporate culture for today’s working environment but for values to be meaningful they must be put right at the heart of the organisation. It is not simply a question of senior management huddling in a corner, selecting a few choice words, sticking them up on the website and around the office and thinking that’s that.

Values must be lived and breathed by the whole organisation – by everyone from the CEO at the top, right through to the newest recruit and taking everyone else along at the same time. They must absolutely drive action throughout the whole team, with no exceptions. You don’t just want passive acceptance of your values but a wholly engaged workforce who genuinely believe and support them.

That’s why values cannot be the preserve of top management – the broader team needs to be involved in their creation. It might sound like a time consuming or even expensive exercise but it doesn’t have to be and there is no getting away from the fact that some consultation through workshops, interviews, discussions over and above a survey are critical if you are going to get a meaningful set of values embraced by your whole team. But when you think about the advantages both financially and emotionally, that is surely a price worth paying.

The values building societies tap into through their very nature – community, fairness, neighbourhood, mutuality – are a great starting point for a contemporary, focused value system. However, each society will need to build on these and adapt them to portray their individuality and competitive advantage and it is only through consulting staff that that can effectively be achieved. Each value must be expressed not just as a single word but expanded to clarify exactly what it means in the context of your specific organisation. It is this specification that helps your team understand why what they do is important and gives them that all-important reason to get out of bed on a cold and miserable Monday morning.

Values are finally getting the attention they deserve and are likely only to increase in importance as HR departments embrace them ever more fully. From being something focused at existing staff, values are being used as the criteria for recruitment itself. Value based recruitment is gaining in popularity across all sectors as businesses try to ensure that they don’t make the mistake of Goldman Sachs but acquire a team which positively endorses the organisation’s ethos – it’s good for the team and it’s good for business. We recently worked with a voluntary organisation whose positive staff experience working through the pandemic illustrated to them just how important values were and are now using values as a key recruitment tool.

Values are the bedrock of a company’s culture and the everyday manifestation of their brand. It’s now time to move them from the wallpaper to the very heart of the organisation.

If you’d like to find out more about how to make your values the beating heart of your organisation, rallying your staff and propelling them forward, then get in touch, we’d love to talk to you.

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