Organisational Values: A much needed refresh by Abdul Zubairu

‘Should we provide some additional phlebotomy appointments for the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG)?’ I asked my wife as we sat having our evening dinner.

The background to this conversation was that our local CCG had asked the GP Federation, for which I am a Medical Director of, to provide some additional phlebotomy service to deal with a backlog of appointments that had occurred as a result of the pandemic.

My wife paused and then said, ‘Well what are your Federation values?’

‘Mmmm,…okay’, I muttered, and the conversation quickly moved on to another topic.

We were established as a GP Federation in 2016. Over the last six years, the Federation has undergone a period of rapid growth in terms of staffing and the number of services we offer. The values of our organisation were created by myself and fellow members of the senior leadership team at inception and had never been revisited.

There has been considerable changing landscape in terms of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and the ‘Me Too’ movement and it appears to me that organisational values are now more important than ever. As a result of the pandemic, many organisations, companies and workplaces are focussing on staff health and wellbeing and prioritising on recruitment and retention. Our GP Federation is no different and it seemed an appropriate time to revisit our values and check they were still relevant for today.

Importance of values and complexity of embedding values within organisations

The vision of an organisation tells us where the organisation would like to be in the future and the mission tells us the stages needed to reach that vision. Values are the guiding principles which ensure sustainability of an organisation to achieve the mission and the vision. Organisational values form the basis and foundation of any organisation. The well-known sayings ‘values drive your culture’ and ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ only serve to highlight this.

A LinkedIn survey carried out in 2018 of over 3000 professionals showed 70% of individuals would not work at a leading company if it had a bad workplace culture. The same survey also showed that 71% of professionals would be willing to take a pay cut to work for a company that share the same values and has a mission that the individual can embrace.

The NHS as an organisation has some robust values which include working together, respect and dignity, commitment to quality of care, compassion, improving lives and everyone counts. Similarly, there is an overlap with the GMC values of excellence, integrity, collaboration, fairness and transparency. Despite the importance of values, organisations can face a number of challenges when trying to embed them fully. One barrier could be if various leaders within an organisation are not buying in to the values themselves or understand the importance and do not role model the desired behaviours. Another barrier to embedding values within an organisation is if employees themselves do not have ownership of the values. It is important that employees are frequently reminded or have an input in to the values of an organisation.

Our Federation’s actions

This conversation with my wife sparked us as a Federation to look at our company values. We wanted to revisit the values and see if they were appropriate, if staff were aware of the values and if staff adhered to them. A workplace survey was done which showed that 95% of employees understood our values which was encouraging.

We subsequently arranged a session with all staff to examine our values with the aim to see if employees felt they were relevant. The session consisted of sharing company values of some well-known organisations and a reflection on those values. The question was asked of all staff, if they were to set up Federation again, ‘What would be the values of organisation?’. The employees got into groups and discussed the question and then presented their ideas to the wider group.

Personally, I learnt the following from this exercise:

  • Keep the organisation values short in length. They are more likely to be quoted and remembered as a result.
  • The process of involving the employees in setting and agreeing values was worthwhile and there is a wealth of evidence that this can help employees to ‘own’ the values.
  • We had a discussion about framing the values as verbs rather than nouns. We saw this in a lot of the well-known organisations that we had looked at. A value only becomes reality through actions and individuals needs to know what the value looks like to be able to display it.
  • It is important to display the values prominently in any organisation. This is something we have done.

On reflection this was a really useful exercise and it was encouraging to see that the views of employed staff matched the views of the senior leadership team. The feedback from the staff was that they felt empowered by the exercise and found it equally as valuable as the senior leadership team.

To revisit what sparked this exercise and the question I asked my wife over dinner: as a Federation we provided those additional phlebotomy appointments as it aligned with our values of collaboration, integrity and respect.

Dr Abdul Zubairu

Dr Abdul Zubairu is GP Principal at Norwood Surgery and Medical Director at Southport & Formby Health Ltd. @DrAbdulZubairu

Declaration of interests

I have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: none.

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