Rachel Brushfield from Energise The Talent Liberation Company explores how an individual’s personal values could be the key to solve the UK’s productivity crisis. 

The UK has a productivity problem and no-one seems to have the answer. This article explores the importance of an individual’s values to unlock productivity. 

Talk about the importance of a business’ values is commonplace.  Increasingly so since the credit crunch and with the growing influence of Millennials. But where is the talk by businesses about the values of their staff? 

Instead of focusing on a business’ values, perhaps the answer is right under our noses and so close to our faces that we cannot see it. Businesses are made up of individuals and collectively they create productivity. Simply stated but true. 

In an environment of ongoing uncertainty, growing inflation, the rising cost of living but, for many, static pay, there needs to be a rethink. 

As a career strategist and coach, my clients come to me to increase their career fulfillment. Some of them have been unfulfilled for years, some decades. Sometimes they cry, the frustration has become all too much, it overwhelms them. Coaching is a safe space for them to express how they really feel and do something about it. How sad I think. Not them, expressing emotion is normal. How sad that it has got to this point. They feel like this and their employer doesn’t know, has ignored the fact, pretended it will go away or been too busy to have a 121 career conversation. 

What are values and why are they important? 

Values are strong beliefs that an individual chooses for how they work and live their life – i.e. what is important to them. For organisations to make time for the values of their staff, a shift is needed by businesses that feelings/emotions are  critical to productivity. How people feel affects what they do or don’t do. Going ‘on strike’ can be internal and invisible, as well as external and visible. Values are an intrinsic part of an individual and what they are passionate about. Therefore values can be the key to unlock greater productivity. 

Vital values – ignore at your peril 

One of the first exercises I do with my career coaching clients is to elicit their values, i.e. what is important to them. For example, innovation, recognition, status, collaboration, making a difference, achievement etc. This shines a light on the cause of their lack of fulfillment at work and begins to identify what they can do about it, whether the change needed is evolutionary or revolutionary. Over 20 years of coaching, I have never understood why businesses do not focus more time, energy and money on this vital topic of the individual values of their staff - for better productivity and enhanced talent attraction and retention. How important is it for your staff to be happy and fulfilled in their jobs. What is the cost to the business of them not being so? Common sense, surely. Witnessing someone talk about what is important them is like lighting a touch paper in animation and energy. 

Understand individuals’ values 

Helping an individual to understand their values and make changes to their lives and work creates more fulfillment. When they honour their values, they feel more fulfillment and when they don’t, they feel unfulfilled. Who wants an employee to be performing in second gear when they could be in fourth or fifth? 

Knowing their values also helps people to understand and manage difficult emotions and make sense of their cause. 

In addition, knowing their own values, what is important to them, makes them curious about what is important to others, which creates enhanced communication and management acuity. This helps managers to better target and frame tasks, projects and gain genuine buy-in and commitment.  

You don’t build a business. You build people and people build the business.
— Zig Ziglar

How values help productivity – carrot not stick 

Values help people to make choices, to understand how they can increase their own personal fulfillment. They provide focus in a world of information overload and overwhelm. They provide clues about the type of working e.g. employed, self-employment, a mixture of employed and self-employed, setting up a business, contracts, freelance projects or a portfolio career that will best suit them. They help them to identify the type of organisation that suits them best for a good culture fit. This saves a lot of wasted shoe-leather applying for jobs and roles that just aren’t a good values fit. Saving wasted interviewer time could be well utlized by management. Knowing their personal values also helps people identify their ideal role, an important thing especially for in-demand hi-potential talent liable to be poached by competitors. 

Personal values – the key to unleash productivity 

When people feel fulfilled, they are more productive and engaged in what they are doing. This is infectious, so especially important if they manage teams or lead a business unit or company. More discretionary effort is fantastic for productivity! People work when it doesn’t feel like work. 

When people feel fulfilled, not only does it rub off on other people internally, it also rubs off on people externally, i.e. clients, customers etc, which is good for client/customer satisfaction – critical for differentiation in competitive markets with increasingly demanding and sophisticated consumers. 

Millennials prize good values 

According to research by Global Tolerance, 42% of the workforce want to work for an organisation that has a positive impact on the world. The research showed that 36% of people would work harder if their employer benefited society. 

Millennials, people born between 1981 and 1996 prize good values highly. They have witnessed the credit crunch at a young age. 62% want to work for a company that makes a positive impact, half prefer purposeful work to a higher salary and 53% would work harder if they were making a difference to others. 

Procrastination kills productivity 

Helping people to identify clashing values within themselves, i.e. values that have a juxtaposition, e.g. adventure and security for example, helps minimise or stop procrastination. Procrastination, ‘the thief of time’, is like an ‘inner tug of war’ or ‘bottle neck’ that slows productivity. It is one cause of low confidence – people ‘beat themselves up’ for not doing something instead of getting on with it, negative for both productivity and self-esteem.  Faster yet wise decision using skills like critical thinking is needed, not slow or paralyzed decision making which procrastination causes. Procrastination is a normal and common occurrence but one that few people are open about, unless they work in a culture where they are allowed to be without judgement and/or have a supportive boss. 

Career adaptability competences 

Research by Warwick Institute of Employment Research and UKCES published August 2015, looked at career adaptability competences. They identified ‘5 Cs’: 

  • Control – being proactive, decisive and taking responsibility for your career 
  • Curiosity – broadening your horizons by seeking options, possibilities and knowledge 
  • Commitment – passionately pursuing and taking action to move to the career horizon of your choosing 
  • Confidence – belief in yourself and that this can achieve your goal 
  • Concern – having a positive and philosophical attitude to mistakes and rejection 

In a world which is in a perpetual state of change and uncertainty, not things most people would choose, it would make sense to recruit people with these career adaptability values and behaviours.

Values to guide management style 

In all cases, helping an individual to be really clear about what a value means to them will improve engagement, productivity and help a manager to manage and motivate them better. Knowing someone’s pleasure points or ‘carrot spots’ is as important as their ‘pain points’ for using the ‘stick’! 

Meaning not money 

It isn’t just money that motivates people, people work harder when their work benefits society. Source Global Tolerance Research. Creating a culture and environment with values which are meaningful and aligned with the values of staff makes motivation increase. People ‘bend over backwards’ for things that they believe in and really care about. 

Enduring accomplishments 

Success AND happiness at work is a winning combination for individuals and employers. When both are possible, an ‘enduring accomplishment’ can be created. Research by Harvard Business Review shows that enduring accomplishments can be created when 4 key needs are met and activities are intentionally structured around the pursuit of activities:

•    Happiness – that produce pleasure and satisfaction
•    Achievement – activities that get tangible results
•    Significance – activities that make a positive impact on the people that matter most
•    Legacy – through which values and knowledge are passed on to others 

Behaviours and attitudes of people who are happy and successful 

Success does not have to be at the expense of happiness. Travis Bradbury conducted research into the behaviours of people who enjoy both happiness and success at work. These are the behaviours:

  • Passionate 
  • ‘Swim against the current’ 
  • Finish what they start 
  • Resilient 
  • Make health a priority 
  • Don’t dwell on problems 
  • Celebrate other people’s success 
  • Live ‘outside the box’ 
  • Open minded
  • Don’t let anyone limit their joy 

Source Travis Bradbury, author of Emotional Intelligence

What do these tell you about how to support your staff to unlock more productivity? How could these insights improve the quality of recruitment? 

Optimal motivation 

Motivation is a key factor in productivity. Fulfillment is a key factor which affects motivation. Self-awareness is the key to creating fulfillment rather than leaving it to chance or abdicating the responsibility for it to the employer. 

Motivation put simply is why an individual does or does not take action – it is about meaning for them in doing or not doing a task, at all, whole-heartedly or half-heartedly. 

Ken Blanchard says that the self-skill of understanding and shaping one’s reasons for action on a daily basis are vital for an individual’s long-term health and effectiveness over time. Ken believes that optimal motivation fuels employee work passion. Activating this optimal motivation is a skill that can be learned, developed and nurtured, taught to others and facilitated by leaders. 

There are 3 aspects of an optimal motivation outlook: 

  • Alignment – they gain something of significant value e.g. learning or having others learn from them 
  • Integrated – they can link it to a life or work purpose e.g. giving voice to an important issue 
  • Inherent – they enjoy the activity and regard it as fun! 

The role of mindfulness in productivity 

Mindful self-awareness is an individual’s ability to proactively manage their thoughts, feelings, attitudes and behaviours over time through the development of awareness of their values and the understanding of their sense of purpose in any moment. Mindfulness is not just about stress management, it is about self-management which has a direct impact on productivity and performance. 

10 practical ways companies can improve productivity through values 

  1. Do workshops to help people understand their values 
  2. Help staff understand what motivates them 
  3. Have career conversations about how to maximise career fulfillment 
  4. Explore role redesign – give staff the opportunity to recraft their roles to better honour their values 
  5. Conduct focus groups to explore what company policies and practices inhibit fulfillment at work 
  6. Set up task teams to generate ideas to increase fulfillment and better meet the most common values amongst staff 
  7. Host workshops to explore in a safe place the inhibitors for and brakes to productivity including procrastination, confidence and fear 
  8. Create projects which link with an individual’s purpose and help them to live their values through their work, at least some of the time if not all the time 
  9. Teach people how to be mindfully self-aware
  10. Allow staff to spend 2 hours a week on a personal project close to their hearts and personal values. 

Summary and Conclusions 

At a time of low productivity in the UK, an increase in productivity is much needed. The key to greater productivity is not ‘rocket science’. The fuel for the rocket is already there – the taper paper to light is how to give individuals what is important to them – honouring their values at work so they can enjoy success and fulfillment and create enduring accomplishments from a place of self-awareness that benefits themselves and their employer. When are you going to ask your employees what is important to them? People need to feel that what they do matters, to themselves and for others. What one action could you take today?