A question of values

22nd December 2021 Posted by

Blog by Dr Tracey Leghorn, Chief Human Resources and Health and Safety Officer, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK.

Earlier this year at our company’s annual Women’s Conference, one of the questions posed for delegates was ‘Who is your best self?’

I was reminded of this while looking back over the last tumultuous year. In business when we review performance, there are KPIs, targets and goals that serve as benchmarks. As an employee, we may also have set goals at work and, in our personal lives, hopes and desires that we hope to achieve.

In both cases, the goals themselves and any assessment of progress and achievement have to be underpinned by values. Which is why this question of being ‘the best version of yourself’ is relevant.

To the cynical, that phrase smacks of an individualistic age and a self-help industry exploiting the fickle pursuit of personal happiness and fulfilment. The more positive view sees ‘being your best self’ as a mature attempt to identify what’s really important to us – our values – and trying to live them each day.

Perhaps an old-fashioned view of maturity is that it’s the convergence of our various ‘selves’ – the faces we might present depending on whether we’re at work, home, in public, with friends or in other social situations, instead of being influenced by the circumstance, coincide so that we’re at one with who we really are. You might also call that self-belief or acceptance.

In a business context, management consultants also talk of ‘maturity’ – from project capability to Lean processes – how capable the processes and people are to deliver a desired outcome. Indeed, one definition of a business’s maturity is its capability for self-improvement. Which brings us full circle to the concept of self-improvement and achieving personal potential.

As a HR professional, I believe this idea of intersecting or converging values is at the heart of both corporate performance and the way we see our work and careers. The more that the values of a company and the personal values of employees align, the more effective that organisation is likely to be, and the more committed and motivated its people.

In my experience, indicators such as productivity and job satisfaction, staff turnover and absenteeism, all tend to reflect the degree to which teams and the workforce as a whole share this common purpose and buy in to the organisation’s culture.

Culture can be long-lived but it’s not a fixed thing. Culture change in organisations is notoriously difficult to inspire and manage. But it can also wither or change in negative ways, for example, if those in senior positions no longer lead by example, or if business decisions or policies conflict with the core values that help define the culture of the organisation, or indeed if that culture and company purpose become irrelevant due to fundamental change in the wider industry, economy or society.

Similarly, while the values of a business and its people are – or should be – enduring, that is not to say that they don’t need to be revisited and renewed or refreshed.

Over the last two decades, the culture and values of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK have evolved to inspire and sustain a radical re-engineering of the business – the transition from waste collection and landfill disposal to a multi-disciplined solutions provider for a circular economy.

Real values are not dreamed up in a boardroom or recommended by consultants. It takes time and consultation with people in all parts and levels of an organisation to arrive at a consensus on the values that guide our behaviours and underpin policies and decision-making.

At SUEZ, our ‘passion for the environment’ value and Triple Bottom Line approach (People, Planet, Profit) unites and motivates us. It is aligned with the purpose of our business. Passion for the environment faces up to the most serious global challenge of our time, and also reflects the priorities of a new generation who are now entering the workforce.

As mentioned in a previous post on employee engagement and business with purpose, passion for the environment feeds our shared purpose, engages and motivates our people, and it also addresses the priorities of our clients and customers.

This and our other values, as employees and as a company, overlap and underpin how we go about our jobs and our performance as an organisation. It’s how we can be our best selves, individually and collectively. But I’d add that we are mature enough to recognise that we must always strive to, not only be our best selves in the moment, but to continually evolve, to grow and become the best that we can be, as individuals and a business.

As we all reflect on 2021 and the year it has been. Let’s also look to the future and commit to truly living to our values as individuals, businesses and a society.

Wishing everyone health and happiness in 2022.

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