Even before the COVID-19 health crisis and the Great Resignation, companies were coming under pressure to rethink their purpose and values. But in the wake of the pandemic, customers and employees are even expecting more from businesses in terms of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. Companies that don’t live up to these demands may struggle to remain competitive.

Research in North America last year found that the overwhelming majority of employees believe it’s important that their company’s core values align with their personal values. However, only around half of workers say they actually do align. Some 52% of workers say they would quit their job—and only one in four would accept one—if company values are not consistent with their personal values.

Most South African employees—except professionals with scarce skills and qualifications—may not have the luxury of walking away from a job that doesn’t align with their values. However, if they do not feel connected to the company’s values, it will affect their morale, productivity and engagement in the business.

In addition, if employees feel disconnected from the company’s values, the business may be moving out of alignment with what its customers want. This challenge is compounded by the ways in which COVID has changed our world. Many people are placing a higher priority on wellbeing, family and work/life balance—others are facing financial struggles and looking towards businesses to do the right things.

Here are some ways that business leaders can achieve stronger alignment between company and employee values:

1. Get employees involved in the values conversation 

The C-suite or owner in a small or medium business (SMB) may take charge of authoring the company’s values and purpose statement. But it can be useful to talk to employees about how they interpret the company’s values and how closely they identify with them. This can get employees engaged in the discussion about exactly what sort of company they want to work for and get their buy-in for its values.

2. Use ‘culture hacks’ to drive change on the ground 

Gartner’s Mary Mesaglio suggests using ‘culture hacks’ to make values tangible for the workforce. “Culture hacks are small, low-effort, emotional changes inserted into the day-to-day lives of employees to translate theory into reality. Several cycles of hacks can be used as part of “culture sprints” until default behaviours become habitual,” she writes. Consider a core value of empowering people. There could be a rule that a senior manager will consider if a decision could be devolved down the ranks before making a choice in a meeting.

3. Explain the “Why” to the team 

Part of the reason that employees might feel disconnected from company values is that they don’t understand why it does (or does not do) certain things. Constantly communicate the business’s values to the team, along with how its ways of working and any decisions it takes are meant to bring them to life. It’s especially important to find ways to underline the values message for remote workers.

4. Reward people for living the company’s values

Finding ways to reward and recognise people for living company values is key. Many businesses claim to be customer-centric. Yet they may reward call centre agents for getting through their calls as quickly as possible rather than for delivering a great customer experience.

To wrap up

Most people want their employer to be a force for good in their lives and the world. And most business owners and leaders also want to do the right things for customers, employees and society at large. Yet with the world changing so fast, companies need to be ever more deliberate about which values they want to embody as well as how they will bring them to life.