Introducing… the Chief Values Officer

As the field of values, ethics and compliance develops and is taken seriously by companies, I imagine that we are likely to see the emergence of a new role – the Chief Values Officer.

It is an old saying that business does not have a culture. It is a culture.

Uber are likely to discover that, after Travis Kalanick stepped down as CEO (while remaining as a Board Director). The move is good PR and good for investor relations, but a problematic culture can take a long time to shift.

Barclays Bank was a company that had a go at changing their values and culture, but couldn’t sustain it. Corporate chief executives change faster than corporate culture and values. The charges now facing the former Barclays chief, John Varley, brought by the Serious Fraud Office in the UK is just one more drip in a drip feed of allegations and investigations stretching over a decade.

Culture, and the values that shape people’s behaviour over time, is therefore an asset, or a liability, that has a lasting influence on the performance of a company.  So, who leads on values?

At the moment, it is relegated to one or another professional lead, viewed through a narrow professional lens. If the lead is given to Human Resources, you get one set of solutions, but they might not reach the supply chain or investor relations. If the lead is given to Risk and Compliance, you can operate in a systematic way, but with the mindset of risk mitigation rather than making the most of values as a driver of value in the business. If the lead is given to Corporate Responsibility, well, you are typically trying to plant flowers in the garden while the really big decisions are taken in the Boardroom.

So, could we see the emergence of a Chief Values Officer?

The idea for this was one that we had a go at writing a template job description for, at a workshop run for the Values Alliance in the UK. This is an entrepreneurial network of values professionals, behind the start of World Values Day every October. This year, the day falls on October 19th and the ask is to take the ‘values challenge’ – recognising that for so many organisations, there is a gap to fill between the values they proclaim and the values they operate with in practice.

So, with acknowledgement to fellow members of the Values Alliance for their input, here is a draft Role Profile for a Chief Values Officer…

Responsibilities 

Developing an appropriate culture and ethos

  • Formulates, reviews and refreshes the values and culture of the business
  • Curates agreement through a participatory approach, internally and with stakeholders externally, and acts as steward of a core values statement

Facilitating a culture of integrity in line with the core values

  • Integrates work on values across key business functions, including HR, Marketing, Compliance, Corporate Responsibility, Business Development, Internal Communications, Finance, Risk and Internal Audit
  • Oversees an appropriate system of assurance and reporting on key aspects of culture and values

Supporting good governance on values and culture

  • Assists the Chief Executive and Board to achieve high quality oversight and governance in relation to organisational culture and values
  • Embeds values across relevant corporate policies and accountability mechanisms for these policies across the business

Builds the capabilities for acting in line with core values

  • Shapes the programme of learning and development in the business to build understanding and competence around core values
  • Supports the effective recruitment of senior staff in line with core values.

Qualities

The post holder will:

  • be self-aware, able to act in line with their own personal and with shared corporate values
  • model what it means to live up to the core values of the organisation
  • display empathetic listening and communication skills, understanding the agendas of the business, and different points of leadership in the business, and stakeholders outside of the business, in order to influence practice in a positive way
  • collaborate with other points of leadership in the business in a flexible way, without seeking to duplicate their work and activities
  • have proven skills in terms of the use of methods for individual, group and organisational development and change
  • respect the role of bodies that give voice to those engaged in the business, including trade unions
  • have the confidence to offer constructive challenge, being resilient in the face of inertia or inappropriate resistance

Is this in fact a Job Description for the Chief Executive Officer?

It is absolutely the case that accountability for values and culture belongs with the Board and CEO, on behalf of the owners of the business, but how do you organise to make a success of that accountability?

You could argue that the CEO should in fact be the Chief Values Officer, but to my mind in a larger business or organisation, they are better separate. The CEO has responsibility for envisioning the future of the business and in taking the organisation towards that, leading relationships to that end and operating with the Chair and Board to do so, while managing business as usual. Values and culture can shape that vision and that work. They are a piece of the wider jigsaw, albeit an essential and often overlooked one.

The Chief Values Officer can support everyone, including the Chief Executive and Board, to focus on values and culture in a consistent and open way over time. That is my thinking.

Comments welcome!

 

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3 thoughts on “Introducing… the Chief Values Officer

  1. Hi Ed – this is an inspiring article. We are working hard to align everything with the values that we have ‘mined’ out of the organisation, its history and its people – and it is hard work! albeit richly rewarding. We have also just rewritten all of our job roles for the big recruitment round and are trying recruit for values first (ie. you may have the skills but if you don’t share the values, it can’t work here). I am still trying to get my head around this not being the role of the CE but recognise increasingly that relaxing more about this brings talented people to the fore who are better than me at creating that inspirational spark that frees good people to align and soar. Thanks for such a great article!

  2. Very interesting Ed, and I wholeheartedly agree with the roles and responsibilities. I do worry though that creating a new role would make it a sideline and reinforce the damp squib that most values are. In a big corp it seems to me those that are getting it right (timpsons for example) don’t have a specific role- it’s everyone’s responsibility. A Chief Values Officer might make them feel it’s not anyone else’s responsibility, bit like many CSR and CSO roles.

  3. I really enjoyed this thinking and analysis.

    Shouldn’t these be in everyone’s JD or is that just a cop out? Certainly both my current CEs are personally assessed on the difference they have made to their organisation’ cultures, but there again they are also assessed against financial management and that doesn’t mean we don’t have Directors of Finance.

    I’m also musing on how we appoint senior colleagues for this or any other important post. Interviewing explicitly for values (sifting out the otherwise unqualified before interview) is an interesting experience and more multi dimensional than old style interviews. It’s not as simple as asking a candidate what is your most compellimg Nolan Principle (I always liked Bernie) but listening for and checking values in every answer. In my experience colleagues, customers and service users are extremely good at collectively sniffing out values so these days I prefer always to have candidate conversations with them as a key layer in the process.

    As an aside, I’m going away now to do a self assessment against the bullets in Ed’s role and profile, and I’ll be pretty surprised if it doesn’t help me identify new work to do.

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