Just like in any job interview, first (and second and third) impressions count with your clients. It’s crucial that your customers can see what you stand for
To your Average Builder, Surveyor or contracts manager, asking them about their values must sound rather fanciful. After all, we are only really interested in delivering projects, making money and living to fight another day.
Or are we?
We all work in teams to achieve projects of varying sizes, and how those teams work is usually affected by how well the members gel. The question of how well people get on is determined by leadership, the clarity of objectives, and the resources to deliver the matching tasks. But one of the key constituents of working together will be the trust that exists between those members in the team.
Trusting somebody you have only just met is rather difficult. We pick up on clues that relate to how they look, talk and respond to us, their reputation, body language and lots of non-verbal signals. Over time, but often quite quickly, we pick up loads of messages about somebody, which allows us to form an impression of them, and build either trust or distrust.
Most of the signals we get relate to the values that an individual has, or our values as applied to that individual. If we think somebody is dressed rather scruffily, it could either tell us that one of their values says “how you look is not important”, or it could indicate that your idea about scruffy is just out of touch. (This is certainly what my 15-year-old son says when I ask him to pull his trousers up!) In other words,
it could be your values that are being explored, not theirs. On the other hand, if we see somebody shoplifting, most of us would think that the individual concerned had a problem over learning common values regarding ownership of property and stealing.
In other words, the core of most of our values are common to most people, and it is at the margins that most of the difference in people's values is defined. Is it okay to break the speed limit, as long as you don't get snapped by a camera? Is it up to the Inland Revenue to check up on you to get the right tax paid, or is it your responsibility? Is it fine to tell white lies in performing your job, but do you then chastise your children when you catch them out on a minor domestic misdemeanour?
We pick up on clues – how people look, talk and respond – that allow us to build up trust or mistrust
Construction, development and consultancy businesses are all based on people assets. The corporate presentation of these groups – for a small house extension or plumbing repair, through to the largest national infrastructure project – all involve people and how they react and work together. Therefore all businesses should be concerned about the values of their employees, and the values that their company, practice or team projects. Even if you have not attempted to articulate the values of your business, anybody that comes into contact with it will have formed an impression.
From the poorly answered phone to the chipped coffee cup; the overly impressive entrance foyer to the attentive and careful secretary or the correctly punctuated letter – all these create an impression of corporate values. No matter what the circumstances, every action and representation of ourselves and our staff will send out bucketloads of signals about who we are, what's important to us and how much we can be relied upon under certain conditions.
The values displayed by leaders in such circumstances are fundamental. A team leader who asks for certain values to be upheld, but then fails to live up to those values quickly loses respect. “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” is the most disenfranchising leadership style that exists. On the other hand, the staff member who shows a junior team colleague kindness in times of stress (the sort that happens every day in every site or office situation) sends out a really positive message about their common values and those of the company.
A large number of construction, property and consultancy companies now publish their corporate values as part of how they present themselves to the outside world. They are well advised to do so: in such a homogenous market, with 50,000 variously sized companies all trying to differentiate themselves, the thing that sets one company or team apart from another is the values that they project. But too often the selection of teams and their members is not based on values, but on more prosaic measures such as cost, availability or technical criteria.
So if, like us, you are constantly looking for new recruits to the teams you are deploying, perhaps the first question you should be asking yourselves is: “What are our common values as a team?”
Paul Hodgkinson is chairman and CEO of Simons Group