How co-designing your values can improve your organisation’s culture

co-design of values

Collaboration isn’t just a buzzword – getting input and buy-in from your people can have huge benefits for a project and for staff too.  Yet many organisations still rely exclusively on their HR function to establish their organisational values.

Organisational values, by definition, affect every single person in the organisation, so it actually makes little sense to have just one team defining these values.

HR manager Amie Reed and marketing coordinator Viviana Rosas from Melbourne’s Merri Health agree. For them, cross-departmental collaboration made sense, which is exactly what they did when they spearheaded Merri Health’s first foray into co-designing organisational values.

Find out how Amie Reed and Viviana Ross co-designed their organisation’s values at the 2018 Not-For-Profit People Conference

Why develop values for everyone?

At Merri Health, the implementation of a new strategic direction highlighted the need for things to change.

“I was getting a lot of feedback that said our values weren’t resonating and people weren’t connected to them anymore,” Reed says.

“It was clear they were too long and difficult to remember, and that what we stood for and our culture really wasn’t clear and concise.”

Rosas adds that it’s critical to get the whole organisation on the same page when it comes to what’s driving the development of values.

“It’s important for everyone to understand how the values themselves add value to the culture you’re building,” she says.

The benefits of co-designing

Co-design is characterised by actively involving all stakeholders in a design process to ensure the end ‘product’ meets everyone’s needs.

The idea of co-design as a viable option was planted after Rosas attended a not-for-profit event that explored design best practices and how co-design fits into the sector.

“You need to know how to navigate all the tools available to you, and the best practices in terms of bringing people on board and how that happens,” Rosas advises.

“Once we had those guidelines we were able to start teaching others in the organisation about how [co-design] works.”

For Rosas, using  co-design principles to steer Merri Health’s values development process was the perfect way to improve upon the disconnect between staff and the organisation’s values.

“We realised our end user is the organisation and our employees – and it’s really important for staff to be able to own our values as opposed to having them imposed on them,” she says.

How to get staff buy-in

When stakeholders are presented with what appears to be a fairly radical design approach, it’s only reasonable to expect some level of resistance. While Merri Health didn’t experience significant opposition to the values development process, there was still a period of low staff buy-in in the beginning.

Rosas recalls sending the first values survey to the organisation’s 400 staff, and only receiving a 12.5% response rate.

“While the responses to the survey itself were really positive, there was also lots of commentary about ensuring the process was going to be really transparent and that it wasn’t tokenistic,” says Rosas.

So how did they end up getting people on board?

Rosas says that committing to transparency – and ensuring staff had a feeling of owning the process and its outcomes – was key to boosting engagement over time.

Why should HR and marketing join forces?

While they might seem like strange bedfellows, collaboration between HR and marketing is valuable far beyond the co-design of values.

Each discipline has a different approach to work, which means each department can bring a different set of strengths to the table – complementing and supporting one another to achieve mutual goals.

“HR can sometimes be very black and white in terms of processes, and the creative element isn’t something that’s always embedded into the work,” Rosas says.

“From a communications and marketing perspective, [the organisation] needs to be looking at things a little bit differently and having more of a creative approach.”

But the two departments haven’t always worked in unison, with Reed admitting cross-collaboration had always been something Merri Health needed to improve upon.

Rosas agrees. “Collaboration is happening more and more,” she says.

“When I think back to the organisation six years ago, we were always hearing we were very siloed and people were working on their own and so on.”

Cross-departmental collaboration has now become so ingrained in Merri Health’s culture, it’s even embedded into staff KPIs and performance reviews.

“At the senior level they’ll ask, ‘what co-design principle did you implement this year? Or ‘what did you empower your program manager to implement this year?’” Reed says.

Rosas adds that teams themselves are constantly questioning how collaborative their activities really are, checking in to remind themselves and each other that they’re committed to the co-design process.

How to embed cross-collaboration in your own organisation

1. Bring everyone on board

Citing a top-down and bottom-up approach as key, Reed says it would have been near impossible to achieve the outcomes Merri Health was seeking for its clients without the buy-in of their entire staff.

“Our employees are our commodity, so it was critical that we empowered them to make the innovative decisions on the values and behaviours of the organisation,” she says.

“Get staff on the front foot and trust that they are able to make their own decisions – it’s important to allow them to bring [the organisation] along on the journey.”

2. Be as transparent as possible

While Rosas admits transparency is a term that’s thrown around so often it can lose its meaning, she emphasises the importance of clear communication at every turn.

“If you’re going to commit to a process where you’re bringing everyone on board, transparency is really key,” she says.

“We’re always ensuring we’re keeping everyone abreast of what’s happening and that people have an outlet where they can ask questions.

“There may be times when we can’t discuss things yet – especially if they’re in a planning phase and we’re not sure ourselves – but we’re still as open as possible with our teams.”

3. Secure true commitment from senior leadership

Reed says the full buy-in and support of your organisation’s leadership team is a non-negotiable before embarking on any co-design process.

“We wouldn’t have been able to achieve this without the full trust of our leadership group,” Reed says.

“They entrusted some of our frontline staff, [Rosas] and me to bring it all together, and then propose that back to them – without them making a single change.”

Like to know more? Get the full story about how Merri Health co-designed their values at the 2018 Not-For-Profit People Conference.

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