How can you help your organisation live its values

At the Public Service Communications Academy on 5 November, I’ll be sharing 10 learnings from our Ministry of Justice (MOJ) values campaign. Internal communications can help drive the culture we want in our organisation, and one way is through embedding our organisational values. Loads of organisations have written down their values – that’s the easy part.

But how do you make sure they become your organisation’s moral compass?

Think of Enron: its stated values were communication, respect and integrity and excellence! At MOJ we’ve been identifying the things that will help us become a truly values-led organisation: where our values underpin our strategic decisions; implementation of our business activities; and how every member of our staff behaves to their colleagues, our stakeholders, and the users of our services.

There’s also recent evidence (Edelman Trust Barometer) that communications of your organisation’s values is the second most important topic (after societal impact) for building staff trust in your organisation.

Here’s 10 things I’ve learned from our work so far:

1. Listen to your audience 

Staff voice is still as important as it was when Clarke and MacLeod wrote Engage for Success in 2009. Over 7,500 staff took part in an exercise to create our values in 2017, which helped us understand what matters to our staff. With staff and leader input we decided on four: purpose, humanity, openness, together

2. Focus on the business outcomes your organisation wants to achieve

Focus on the business outcomes your organisation wants to achieve – look at your organisation’s strategy and work closely with your senior leaders. I think it’s one of the areas where internal communications has made the biggest strides in the past five years. Back in 2014 Alex Aiken issued a rallying cry to government communicators to avoid just Sending Out Stuff: to focus on the strategic rather than the tactical. When Alex asked me to set up the IC Excellence project to improve the standards of IC across government, with Russell Grossman (now head of Profession for IC), I jumped at the chance – and along the way we created long-term resources such as the IC Space and a growing network of government practitioners delivering award-winning work.

At MOJ, our values and culture work is one of the four pillars of our annual Internal Communications Strategy which we have developed with our executive committee. Within our values campaign, we’re focusing on issues that are important to us including increasing collaborative working, and increasing inclusion through a focus on positive behaviours (you can get a feel for our inclusion work in this recent video featuring some of our staff)

3. Tell stories, stories and more stories 

Our brains are hard-wired to respond to stories: using stories is more likely to connect with your audiences than a lot of factual text. With our values campaign we’re giving staff a platform to share their personal stories of how they are living our values and how they have felt supported at work – our colleagues have shared their many stories, including of being supported when returning to work after gender reassignment; of thriving at MOJ after a childhood growing up in care; and of gaining confidence in public speaking for the first time.

4. Find your advocates

They are more trusted than the CEO! We’re increasingly looking at how we can make the most of the passion our staff have for their work when it comes to embedding our values. This has ranged from inviting staff to be part of the judging panels for our annual MOJ Awards, to involving staff from across our organisation in our Values Steering Group so that the perspectives of our ushers, prison staff and lawyers are factored in alongside those of our Directors.

5. Mind the (say-do) gap and model it from the top

Organisational integrity was at the heart of the IC Standard Operating Model (SOM) created through the IC Excellence project and it’s no less important now. Your leaders need to not just live your values but be seen to be living your values. Alongside featuring our leaders in our communications, including through blogs, we’re also supporting our leaders to model our values in their own communications. In the Office of the Public Guardian, our team set their incoming CEO the challenge of meeting all 1,500 staff in 100 days with a Public Guardian bingo game, listening to views and ideas from every part of the organisation.

6. Be creative to capture attention

We have a busy and dispersed workforce so we’re regularly trying new things to capture their attention – such as our MOJ values advent calendar (part of our Christmas campaign) where we asked staff to nominate someone to feature each day in our online calendar, resulting in hundreds of staff putting their colleagues forward.

7. Start conversations that matter

We’ve been encouraging teams to talk about the behaviours we want to see. We’ve encouraged pledging on the theme of working together more as part of a ‘Together’ month; facilitated regular discussions through our Let’s Talk About team discussion channel on themes including humanity and speaking up; and encouraged colleagues to share Thank You cards when colleagues are living the values, with over 10,000 shared to date.

8. We can’t do it alone: find your partners

We’ve been working closely with HR colleagues to weave the values into our HR processes through the employee lifecycle and promoting a Values Climate Tool which helps teams explore the extent to which they are living the values

9. Your staff can help build your brand externally

We’re now looking at how we can use content from our internal campaign externally, particularly to help potential new recruits gain an insight into our organisation

10. Measure it and keep learning

Like all behaviour change, it doesn’t happen overnight! We’re constantly reviewing what is and isn’t working so we can keep improving. I don’t spot that many articles and case studies around values, so it was great to hear from the Institute of Business Ethics at the recent CIPR Inside conference, and also to get some good food for thought from Rachel Miller’s recent values blog post on AllThingsIC. If you’ve done things to bring your organisation’s values to life, that are being effective, I’d love to hear what you’ve done.

Sara Vogt  (@_SaraVogt) is Deputy Director, Corporate Communications at the Ministry of Justice. Sara is speaking about the MOJ’s work on organisational values at the LG Comms Academy in Manchester on 5 November

MOJ Values campaign won an award at the LG Comms & GCS Awards 2018; and won best in-house campaign at the Corp Comms Award 2018.