How to rule a workplace through values

man-1207687_640By Barbara du Preez-Ulmi. There is nothing bad about rules, unless they have been set up by a petty tyrant. We have rules of conduct at playgrounds, at community centres, at gyms, and when we use our roads. But when it comes to the workplace, rules might not always be appropriate. Value-driven playbooks instill a sense of community, responsibility and maturity at work. They set the foundation for a value-driven company culture. A culture that doesn’t prohibit, excessively control and shame. Certainly, strict rules must be followed when safety, security and health at the workplace are concerned. But many businesses and organisations seem to extend the use of rules to everything that they need to regulate at the workplace, down to how many cups of coffee may be had.

Fewer conflicts and disputes

This usually results in a Disciplinary Code outlining what punishment will follow for whatever workplace (or common law) rule was broken. To make an example: Tyron works at plant that manufactures high-pressure cleaners for the oil industry. His manageress accuses him of stealing an “oil cleaner gun” and she claims to have evidence and witnesses attesting to such. Tyron receives a request to attend a disciplinary hearing. The chairman decides that all evidence points towards Tyron having committed the offense, and he is dismissed. Tyron feels he was dismissed unfairly, and lodges a complaint with the CCMA. While it is a common law rule that we must not commit theft at the workplace, there are other ways of preventing (alleged) theft to happen in the first place.

If you create a workplace that is governed by values, rather than rules, you create a mind-shift that results in fewer disputes, conflicts and misunderstanding. Employees are not children (and it stands to argue that also children should not just have to live by rules, but be raised by shared values). Employees are adults with different personality traits and different backgrounds, just like employers. If you manage your workplace by only having rules, you run into the risk of creating an environment that is dominated by fear, control and conflict. If however you create an environment that is managed by shared values, I can guarantee you that it will result in higher staff satisfaction, loyalty, output and maturity.

Values create a unique workplace culture

Of course, you need to first decide on and stick to the values that carry your vision, and make them clear to everyone. These values then become the content of your workplace culture (how you do things). Some prefer to set their own values (as business owners), others prefer a participatory approach. There are different ways to make these core values visible: A video, a presentation, a giant poster, a company handbook, for instance. One of your values may be “honesty”. Honesty in how we feel, think and act at the workplace. Honesty in how we deal with others, and ourselves. Honesty as part of being integer and responsible. Of course, we are all different. Some of the people we work with may not take honesty as seriously as others.

The crux lies in assessing new job candidates and probationary employees against your core values; and to make sure you explain why you strive for a certain value to become the norm at the workplace. In Tyron’s example above, you could explain that if an employee misappropriates company property, this property has to be replaced; this incurs cost, perhaps even a safety issue, depending on what was removed. It could also result in the loss of a client. All of this may lead to the company being less productive, losing money or clients, losing its reputation which results in fewer referrals – and this in turn will lead to less growth, which means: no salary increase; no year-end function; no earn out, etc.

Are you confident enough to curate values?

Values are explained. They may be questioned, perhaps even negotiated. Consequences are not to punish, but to defend the value, and they can be jointly created. Above all, there is no finger-pointing. Rules however are one-linear. They are not discussed, improved on, questioned. They are set up by a few for many, and do not allow for any healthy discussion.

Contrary to rules, values support and grow a certain workplace culture, and don’t enforce it. If you have a culture that is driven by values that you explain to everyone, then  it is highly likely that everyone starts owning and curating these values. Once this happens, the thought of illegally removing something from work will probably not occur to anyone, as it would mean removing it from a community, rather than a “rich owner”.

Company handbook writing tips

To write an employee (or company) handbook is not always an easy task. Every business has their own unique needs; some may also operate within industries that have strict safety regulations. The trick is to write a company handbook so that it is understood by all; a book that is the foundation of your workplace culture and values.

  • It needs to be simple; avoid legal jargon. Challenge yourself to rather explain the legalese in easy terms, and refer to clauses in the employment contract or labour legislation for more detailed information.
  • Write it as if you were speaking to a friend to whom you explain how things work at your business; how you do things, why, where and when.
  • Package it in a way that it is helpful to someone you’re on-boarding new, as much as someone who’s been with you for a while.
  • Explain your core values; why you have them, and what the consequences could be if they are not lived (not in terms of punishment, but in terms of how mistreating them could result in a joint loss or unhappiness).
  • If feasible, have everyone read a draft and add comments; if there are too many people, choose diverse employees in different job functions, units and departments.
  • Translate it into the most commonly spoken languages at your workplace; especially so if you have people from a diverse background who may not all be familiar with your official operating language.
  • Go through the handbook’s core sections jointly with your employees, and again, if there are too many, conduct an L&D session with your managers, and turn them into your ambassadors.
  • Have everyone sign a copy. 



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