In the media – Gaining a competitive advantage through soft skills

– This article was published in Training Journal (January 2015)

As we now seem to increasingly consider emotional intelligence at least as important as technical ability behaviours become critical to the well being of the team and the business. In fact, a recent published study shows that those who are in tune with their colleagues’ emotions may be more financially successful and productive at work.*

In order to drive the right behaviours we can turn to competency frameworks that provide indicators of performance and as well as technical competence this can extend to behavioural competence. However, overarching the individual competency measures there should be a set of shared corporate values that reflect the culture of the business. Having a powerful set of values can galvanise the team to understand their focus from a completely different perspective. The vision for the business together with the strategic objectives, performance targets and change initiatives remain critical, but in addition high performance comes also from a shared understanding of how to behave and what is important.

Where to start?

Agreeing a set of values is, on the face of it, a straight forward activity and with the help of a facilitator it is easy to tease out those words that are meaningful. Arguably defining the values is the easy part, embedding them is a much harder proposition yet you will only achieve the benefits if you work hard on this. So the question then becomes “What do we do with them now?”

That said, identifying the values are not a trivial exercise and there are many pitfalls awaiting. For instance, there is nothing worse than the executive team coming back from an offsite with a series of values that don’t resonate with anyone else. They must be grounded, relevant and the organisation must be able to relate to them. It is also important to keep them simple and to avoid the clichés. ‘Teamwork’ and ‘Quality’ are important to any organisation but as values they are overused and underwhelming.

Similarly, if they are too abstract people find it difficult to demonstrate them and having too many values or making them too verbose will make them hard to work with. Simplicity is the key here but think also about the negative side to the word. If Candour is a value you must be sure that this isn’t an excuse for rudeness. Equally, if Knowledge is a value this mustn’t be a route to arrogance being acceptable behaviour.

Making the values live!

Like with most things communication is key. Senior leaders have a habit of making announcements and then assuming that because it has been said once (or even worse emailed once) the message is now embedded in everyone’s mind. This is rarely the case and so you have to over-communicate taking every opportunity to ensure that the message becomes lodged in everyone’s thinking.

  1. Firstly, it is important to gauge the reaction before rolling out the values company wide creating a series of focus groups with representatives from all levels within the organisation. Consider carefully the feedback, don’t be precious and be prepared to go back to the drawing board if the feedback isn’t what you hoped for.
  2. Announce them with impact and perhaps hold a launch event. Make sure that everyone knows that we have a new set of values and why we believe they are important. Give examples of what they mean and how they will affect our business. Add them to the website so that clients and prospects can see them too.
  3. Make it memorable. Have a competition to find images that represent the values. Hang the winning pictures on the wall in every office so that people – staff and clients alike, can see them and be reminded of the business values. Add them to the intranet and to regular newsletters.
  4. Ask your managers to start every meeting with a review of the values and invite examples of how they are being applied. Use the values as an important part of regular appraisals and add them to your annual review process.
  5. Have an award scheme to recognise “valuable” behaviour. This can be as simple (and low cost) as a personal congratulatory message from the CEO recognising you as an exemplar. This simple recognition is usually valued more than expected and gives something to strive towards.

In a complex multi-faceted work environment, with people increasingly working from different environments, and often geographic regions, individuals will react to change differently. If organisations want to ensure that new values deliver on their promise then business leaders must help to define or change the culture of the organisation and become emotionally part of the fabric of the business.


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Eddie Kilkelly

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