A different set of values

Rebecca Howard spoke to the Pink Shoe Club about why shared values matter in business.

A company’s values should be at the heart of what it does and not some tick box formality, an award-winning entrepreneur told a meeting of the women’s networking group the Pink Shoe Club recently.

Rebecca Howard runs Cynergy, a change agency, and told the meeting at the House of Commons that the first thing she does when she goes into a company is ask their employees to bring in something that is meaningful to them. She showed photos of her children to illustrate what was important to her. “They give me great purpose and are at the heart of how I relate to my job,” she said, adding that she views her company as an extension of her family.

She says often the employees she talks to have never been asked about their personal values and how these link to their work. “I find that really strange,” said Rebecca, adding that many people bring in things like pregnancy scans and wedding photos. “It’s almost as if the boardroom is banning love and purpose. It’s almost like they have forgotten the quiet voice of community and collaboration, as if they want people to leave the things that drive them at their door every day.”

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The results of employees trying to fit in with values which they don’t share, according to Rebecca, are absenteeism, presenteeism and sickness. “People become almost mechanised. They are human doings rather than human beings,” she said.

Rebecca’s own personal story shows how values have become central to her business. For eight years she was a partner in a dental marketing firm. Her business partner had completely different values from hers and was focused totally on profit. The mismatch in values meant she used up a lot of energy to keep going as the business had become alien to her. Eventually problems developed.

“When the values are mismatched something goes wrong,” she said. “I lost the business after the partnership broke down and I lost my marriage and my home.”

She found herself on her own with a four-year-old child. Fired up from her previous business experience and needing to look after her son, Rebecca, from Teeside, secured a loan from Tesco for a conservatory and used it to start a business that would make a difference to people’s lives. It’s an idea she has not swerved from, turning down lucrative contracts which were not in keeping with her company’s values. The company has worked on the rehabilitation of offenders, on improving care in the NHS and encouraging employers to take on employees with disabilities.

She was recently named North East Woman Entrepreneur of the Year and during the judging process she was asked if she would take a £2K contract from Tesco. She said she would turn it down as you cannot ditch your values when the going gets tough. The local paper ran a negative story, criticising her for turning down lucrative contracts. “They could not understand. To me it is not worth winning at any cost. There is always a cost,” said Rebecca. “I believe a healthy business cannot exist in a failing society. I prefer to win with purpose.”

Ten years on she is happy that the business has kept to its values. She has also created a social enterprise called SenseEvents to tackle the big problems in society which require a collaborative approach, for instance, she is bringing together big pharmaceutical companies with the NHS to focus on how to get dementia patients to keep taking their medication.

Generation Y

For Rebecca, social enterprise which brings together business with community issues will play a growing part in the economy because the younger generation – Generation Y – want a job with a purpose. “They want to do something beyond their work and to give back,” she said. “If we do not understand them we will be in trouble,” she said.

She added that young people were wise to tickbox corporate social responsibility, what she called “old fashioned CSR sitting in PR”. “It won’t wash,” she said.

She works with companies to help them to emotionally engage their staff. “Together they can create shared values, something that gets people to get out of bed in the morning and gives the business a purpose and cause. Those shared values push up productivity and well being and reduce absenteeism,” said Rebecca.

She finished by saying: “I believe we are about to witness a perfect storm. Large business is broken. The way we did business before doesn’t work. Generation Y and Z will ring about a fundamental shift in the role of business in society which builds in the consumer, the community and the environment.”

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