In the early stages of a business’s existence, it is perhaps unsurprising that the entity is shaped by the personal values of the founder – they are the organisation after all.
In fact, for as long as the business remains independently managed, it is common for those values to remain inherent to the company, even during periods of growth. Sometimes this is unintentional. The founder may recruit like-minded individuals with shared values, or the strength of their leadership and communication may result in their personal values naturally cascading down throughout the team.
There are occasions, of course, when the process is far more formalised and founders think ‘seriously’ about the brand and the principles/purpose they want it to stand for. Either way, it should not be seen as a bad thing for personal values to influence the direction that a company evolves in.
In the same breath, change should not necessarily be feared. Over time, a level of incongruence may arise in line with team expansion, conflicting boardroom priorities and/or the founder’s own advancing vision. And redevelopment of the initial values does not necessarily mean the brand suddenly becomes less authentic – after all, without progression, businesses can stagnate.
But the DNA that the founder ploughed into the organisation is usually something that individual wants to protect to a certain degree.
The key advice in this respect is to involve colleagues. Without some value alignment – or at least empathy for the values that a business has – the risk of cognitive dissonance (discomfort) among employees is too great. And we all know that without the true commitment of an organisation’s workforce – without them living and breathing what the organisation promises to customers – everything could soon fall flat.
Admittedly, in a 250-strong company for example, it will be practically impossible to reflect everyone’s values. But by at least consulting them, it is possible to incorporate their views and help secure their ‘buy in’.
Even if the founder maintains virtually all of their original values and beliefs, this dialogue is important. The values must still make sense and be comprehensible to colleagues, if they are to be embraced.
This may mean that they need to be more than just buzz words. ‘Integrity’ may have made a lot of sense to the founder on day one of the organisation’s journey, but, fast forward to the present day, and how can a colleague own that value? What is expected of them? The founder must make this clear, give examples, and form realistic and tangible agreements surrounding behaviour.
Like many areas of change management, this process isn’t always easy to undertake. But it isn’t impossible. Nor should it be frowned upon for an individual’s personal values to remain inherent to a brand. Just look at Richard Branson and Virgin…