Employee Engagement Comes from Setting Clear Expectations

It’s not easy to create meaningful company values that resonate with employees, but the benefits make it worth the effort.

In many workplaces, corporate values are little more than words drummed up by executives in a boardroom, then placed on a poster that’s hung unceremoniously in a lobby or main hallway. In fact, the very mention of the words corporate values to employees usually is met with indifference or eye rolls.

But not at Neovia Logistics Services, a global third-party logistics outsourcing firm with more than 8,000 employees in more than 20 countries and U.S. operations based in Irving, Texas. About a year ago, the company finished a revamp of its core values, then integrated them into virtually all facets of employees’ daily work lives, says Shari Chernack, the company’s vice president of communications and engagement.

The end result of making corporate values a living and breathing part of employees’ jobs? Enhanced employee engagement because they clearly understand company expectations for things such as how to treat each other and customers, as well as what’s needed to advance their careers, Chernack says.

“Core values are at the center of everything a company does,” Chernack explains. “They set the mark and aspirations for what companies should be like in terms of how people serve their customers, treat one another and make the place where they spend the majority of their waking hours as strong and good an environment as possible.

“So there’s a lot riding on those values because they provide a way for companies to talk about all those things and aspire to do well at all of them,” she continues. “If you look at lists of the most admired companies and best places to work, they all have strong, well-communicated corporate values … those values must be true to what a company is and what it’s trying to accomplish.”

Input from all levels

To make corporate values meaningful and worthwhile to employees, Neovia Logistics Services officials didn’t develop them in the isolated vacuum of a corporate boardroom. Instead, they solicited input from about 300 employees from around the world and from all levels of employment. “We didn’t want the values to come from a boardroom,” she notes. “We wanted to hear about the insights and aspirations of those hundreds of employees who shared their input and stories. In essence, it was a very large series of focus groups.”

Those 300 employees were asked to review a list of 40 common attributes associated with core values and choose the ones that resonated the most — decide which ones were the most important and relevant, given their experiences and what they know about the company. The company evaluated but decided not to choose certain words that have become extremely commonplace in corporate values, such as “integrity,” Chernack points out.

After that, management analyzed all the input and emerged with clear themes, which were further refined and sharpened into five final core values: customer commitment, fairness, outcomes (to focus on results), teamwork and safety.

“The values have to be authentic in order to resonate with employees,” Chernack explains. “They also must be integrated into the way employees work every day — into the processes and conversations. They need to provide guidance — a true north.

“Without all that, they’re really almost separate from what the company is doing and they become meaningless words hanging on a wall,” she adds. “It’s great to post your core values on a wall, but the challenge is making sure they’re more than just that — words on a wall.”

Front and center

How does Neovia Logistics Services ensure that doesn’t happen? For starters, they’re highly visible and prominent in employees’ daily work lives. Values are included in regular team meetings with employees. “A lot of meetings start with discussions of core values,” she says. “They’re also embedded in our leadership competencies, so if someone wants to be a leader, they’re evaluated by how they live those values.”

Moreover, the company’s core values are integrated into other talent-related processes, such as assessment and performance management. “We also make sure our recruiters are knowledgeable about our values so that they include them as criteria when assessing the strengths of job candidates,” Chernack adds.

In addition, the company reinforces core values by recognizing and honoring employees who demonstrate them. “If an employee team does something really incredible, for example, we’ll post an article in our communication channels,” she notes. “Furthermore, our chief executive officer recognizes (values-based) outcomes at our quarterly global town hall meetings. We do everything we can to make sure our values are lived and breathed by all employees.”

The company also stresses that when it comes to articulating and promoting the company’s values, everyone — from the chief executive officer and operations leaders to plant supervisors and line workers — is responsible. “That’s why it’s important to choose core values that aren’t so pie in the sky that no one knows what they mean,” she says.

Assessing effectiveness

How can companies determine if their values need a makeover? Chernack suggests using tools such as engagement surveys, 360-degree feedback surveys and performance reviews. In short, there’s a wealth of data that companies can obtain fairly easily through their annual measures of engagement and performance. “There may be (more overt) signals, but sometimes employee data can be the canary in the coal mine that indicates problems that may not be readily visible to management,” she says.

Neovia Logistics Services launched its new set of values in March 2017. To generate interest among employees, a team created a “guerrilla-style” video that showed workers from around the world talking about what the core values mean to them. Managers also received conversation starters to initiate discussions about values at meetings, she says.

Post-launch surveys indicate employees have embraced the new core values. One month after the launch, the company conducted two surveys: One to judge employee awareness of the values and another to see how they align with employees’ personal values. Both surveys yielded results that were more than 90 percent favorable, Chernack says.

In addition, the company’s regular engagement surveys now ask employees about how well they feel the company demonstrates each of the five values. The bottom line: Companies should periodically survey employees to measure how well its values serve them and the company. “It’s all part of regularly assessing the health of your organization,” Chernack says. And making sure that values are more than just words on a wall.


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