Company values go beyond ‘writing on the wall’

Bruce Highfield of Olam International speaks at the WOW/ GBS Alumni breakfast

When it comes to organisational values, Bruce Highfield of Olam International believes they hold a deeper meaning for companies than some may think.

“I think in the beginning most organisations felt that they needed to placate the HR department and find some words to stick on the wall, but I think we’ve moved on from there,” Highfield said at the co-hosted WOW/ GBS Alumni Breakfast and Networking Series on Thursday (10 August).

Joined by UnitingCare Queensland’s Shannon Foley and Dr Rebecca Loudon of the Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, the three laid out the significance of strong values for today’s businesses.

“I think most organisations of any note understand that it is the role of the CEO and senior leadership team to set the values of the organisation and to give people some context within the organisation about how the organisation should operate and how people in the organisation should behave,” Highfield said.

“It’s extremely important because without that context people will behave as they see fit, and in the long term that may cause damage to an organisational brand. You can see every day in the newspaper when organisations hit a hiccup it’s usually because somebody hasn’t been living the values of the organisation.”

That focus on core values is especially important when it comes to Olam International according to Highfield. Operating across 71 countries, including both developing and developed nations, every leader needs to understand how each employee should act.

“There’s a whole range of issues that employees need to understand the context in how the CEO and senior executive team want people to behave.

“What comes first? Is it all about the dollar? Or is it all about making sure we have a company that sustains itself for a thousand years.”

Dr Rebecca Loudoun

Delving deep into the role of company values herself, Dr Rebecca Loudoun(pictured left) has been working with Programmed Maintenance to help the company develop a recruitment tool around health and safety values.

The 12-month project called SmartMinds, looks at not only traditional value-based recruitment in communication, problem-solving skills and customer orientation, but also to values such as safety agility, safety leadership, capacity and willingness to take risks, perceptions of risk, compliance and managers desire to build a safe workplace.

According to Dr Loudoun, a lot of organisations have looked at safety attitudes, but safety values are much newer.

“A lot of people would say safety values are the way of the future and this is what is going to differentiate organisations going forward,” Loudon said.

While Dr Loudon cannot speculate with any absolute certainty, she says that indirect evidence does exist that strong values may lead to more effective companies.

“There is a lot of research that looks at value congruence or personal values fit, and that research shows having value incongruent leads to a lot of conflict in the workplace, intentions to leave the workplace, and customer dissatisfaction,” Loudon said.

“On the other end value congruence has been effective for wellbeing, for morale, for organisational satisfaction and job satisfaction, so they’re often used as proxy indicators for performance.”

For Bruce Highfield and his team at Olam International, they take their company values seriously at every level.

“Most organisations I’ve ever worked in there’s always something on the wall, and I would say that at Olam they are lived,” said Highfield.

“Our CEO has always said he doesn’t want to put the Olam values on the wall; he should be able to feel them when he walks into the organisation.

“It may sound corny to some people, but in our organisation, they are very strong.”