The Meaning of Organisational Values. An Interview with Pansensic CEO

Eleanor Barlow 

From quaint start-ups to great corporate beasts, organisational values affects us all, at every level.

Office Culture

Today we are joined by the CEO of Pansensic, Paul Howarth, who has some strong opinions regarding the nature of organisational values.

Paul Howarth: “Yes, I believe values are exceedingly important because they strongly influence company behaviours, and these behaviours then become the company culture. So, if you can get the values right from day one, and you live those values, then you can actually affect the culture in a very positive, or negative, way…depending on the values you implement.

“Very often, however, people don’t live by the values they preach. Words on a motivational poster mean very little if they are not actually acted upon, and establishing values is a useless process if no real changes are made.

“Perhaps the best example I have seen of this, in the business world anyway, is at Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital in central London. This hospital is colossal. With over ‘2.4 million patient contacts per year, including more than 800,000 in community services, 103,000 day-case patients, 88,000 inpatients and 1.2 million outpatients’ (NHS) and over 15,300 staff (2017). Yet, despite its size, here values are actually implemented within every level of the organisation. From leadership to middle management and the front-line staff; everybody understands the core values of the organisation. Each level has a written document and comprehension of how they should live said values on a day to day basis. Here the values are ingrained and, when principles become habitual, these values become culture; something that actually means something, rather than just words on a form.

“So, for me, values can become behaviours, and these behaviours can drive culture. Another factor of upholding values is that, in tough times, these values provide everyone with a kind of moral and corporate compass to follow…depending on the values you have, of course.  But these values steer people to their moral destination, and that’s really important.”

How would you define the term ‘values’?

“Well, there are great examples and definitions of values littered across the internet and in books and so on, but values can mean very different things for different people, for different organisations, and for every type of leadership team.

“In healthcare, for instance, you might have values based around compassion and care, whereas in a corporate organisation, the equivalent may be more customer-centric. There are just so many things that you can have as values- it really depends on what matters to you as a company. If you take your business objectives, your values should be broader than your business objectives, so that you get to the values destination, as well as achieving your business objectives and goals.”

Do you think that by having good values people feel more valued themselves, and then work harder?

“It depends on the values you set, and what environment you are trying to create. The values you establish will determine the culture and working environment of your organisation. So, if you are trying to create an intimidating corporate office (I wouldn’t recommend it, but I see it often) you can do so with certain values, and likewise if you want to fashion a relaxed coastal vibe (like we do) you can do so with values. It really depends on what the organisation wants from their employees, and that is up to the individual company. For me, I see values more as the intangible aspects, encompassing the moral and emotional qualities rather than just the corporate values… but that’s just my personal preference.”

Whether or not your organisation goes through a process to identify its values or not, the company will still have its values- these are implicit, as opposed to explicit. But often implied values are not well thought through. For instance, you may have a macho management culture, because the company works in an industry that is very macho orientated. Now if leadership really thought about it, it would possibly see this as counter-productive (I certainly would) and change their values and encourage new behaviours.

Often values are inherited, and many originate from the industrial revolution, Victorian way of life, our heritage, our social culture, class systems and so on. But while Generation X may well put up with these values, Generation Y and millennials certainly will not!

Dean Kamen once said that ‘Nothing that has value, real value, has no cost. Not freedom, not food, not shelter, not healthcare.’ You touched upon healthcare previously, but what do you make of this quote?

“Yes, all these things do have costs, but if you refer to this quote with regards to inside a business, it does not cost anything to be empathetic. Empathy is a value… and a very useful one at that, and it is free to businesses. It does not cost anything to be customer centric. In fact, values cost very little, if anything at all. Not only do they not cost, but the behaviours that they drive become free and, in turn, the culture this creates becomes free. It is a huge tool to get the best out of your organisation, and it does not necessarily cost you any monetary expenditure.”

So, how does Pansensic help businesses with their value compass, so to speak?

“Well, organisations all need to measure whether their business and its employees align to the desired values or not. More often than not, these intangible aspects are not measured because they can be difficult to measure. Little useful information is accumulated via quantitative analysis and, therefore, little can actually be acted upon and improved.

(Click here to read our previous article on measuring the intangible.)

“So, where Pansensic steps in is with qualitative data analysis. It is through the employees/employers/customers and stakeholder’s genuine experiences that we can identify, with our technologies, where values are being upheld and where they are faltering. Through people’s experiences, comments and stories, we can decipher true opinions.

“You see, quantitative questions are usually set up in anticipation for a particular answer.  Say, a company has a survey and a question on said survey is ‘do you understand the company’s values?’, well yes or no will, more times than not, be the only response- which does not help anyone. But by using qualitative data, we can find out exactly what people are thinking and saying and, therefore, help you decipher whether or not your values are being adhered to, and if not, why not.

“It is living the values rather than stating the values, and that is the crucial part! Without living the values, you are just dreaming.”

Thank you, Paul, for another insightful interview. Check out one of our previous interviews with Paul on Blockchain and the Wisdom of the Crowd.

(This interview has been edited for the purpose of clarity)

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