Blueleaf CEO and Founder, Adrian Lomas shares why he's invested time working with the team to develop company values, and why he urges you to do the same. 

Back in 2012, as a business we were growing. Growing extensively, in fact you could say we were on the crest of the wave. The National Business Awards voted us as one of the top 10 companies to work for in the UK, we were accredited with Investors in People to the rare Gold standard and we were growing the team rapidly. What a great story, right?

Wrong. There was something not right. Something that was eating at the company from within. A cancer that we couldn't see but we started to feel. It started with clients ringing and complaining about our service. This cut deep for me, how could it be? We thought it was the odd client, jarring slightly but then it happened again and again so it became clear that it wasn’t only a handful of clients. Terrifyingly, it was most clients. We certainly had a problem brewing.  

It took 12 months to really get to the depths of the problem, but to cut a long story short, it turned out that hubris had set in. Hubris, in that we were hiring people quickly and a touch of arrogance had crept in.  

The process we’d developed for hiring involved clarifying the role, requesting CVs and then carefully reviewing them. We brought in the relevant candidates, interviewed them with several team members, and if they passed this we brought them in for an experience day. The outcome was to either hire or reject them. Sounds OK. In fact in some ways it’s a lot more diligent that some companies processes. However, the piece that we were missing was our values. We didn’t have any!

Rather than take the advice of our accountants (to bring in an insolvency practitioner) we went back to basics. It was a horrible period in my generally successful career. It meant laying people off, giving money back to clients when we’d messed up, taking a huge loan to prop up the business and standing in front of what was left of the team to accept I’d failed. No matter what happens within a company, a leader has to take final accountability. This stemmed from the hubris that had set in; it was time to change, rather than throw in the towel at this stage.

The core team stood by, but they needed an injection of confidence, quickly. So as a leadership team we worked on several things:

  • Our passion, what we stood for.  Designing and building great retail sites was ours. In fact, we love to Inspire which led to a passion statement of 'Inspiring Great Retail'
  • Next came our vision. Where we are heading as a team and how we are going to get there with a mission statement? A lot has been written about these so I won’t deepen my thoughts here. But boiling it down to its simplest form, you stand a much better chance of getting to a destination if you know where you stand now, where you want to get to and how you are going to get there. This is all it is really.
  • The piece I want to explain in more detail is the one that is often missed out, the company values.

You’ll know when you're with someone, either socially or in work, and you just get on. It's normally because you have similar values. The opposite to that picture is someone you don't get on with. It’s usually because they do things in life that may seem fine to them but to you it totally flouts your value set.   

If this is the case, why not clarify the values of your business? This is a great exercise to do with your team. I say “great” but being honest, it can be quite painful. You start with so many possibilities before drilling down into the core values that really work for you and your team. There will be some values that cause great debate and some tough decisions. You may personally want some values but you just can’t see how they’ll fit it or you prioritise others over these. We overcame this by combining two together,  ‘humble and confident’ for instance, ‘collaborative and supportive’, ‘happy to challenge and be challenged’.

It did take us most of the day to boil down a table full of values, down to just 9.  Yes 9. Some say 5 or 6 is plenty but we went for 9. It felt right for us. How could we test it though?

We picked our star performers and mentally ranked them against each of our proposed values. Does this person exceed in this value and that value? Yes, yes, yes. Now let’s run the test on the people that have not worked out. OK now that's interesting, lots of no's against our set of values.

Having this information bagged, the next stage was to make sure it became embedded into the Blueleaf culture - the way we do things and further than that, into the recruitment process. 

I'd like to say all team members rushed out and had it tattooed on their arm but that’s not quite true. We did get some pushback, largely because of the perceived corporate feel the values gave. But what I found was quite interesting, once we had some raving fans internally, started using them in all our comms, praised people against the values, and called people out against the values, they really soaked in.

After 6 months, it permeated into everything we did including recruitment questions, where we actively marked against our values and if anyone violated them, no matter how amazing their CV was, we started to reject them. It was tough at first but the turnaround was amazing. Only people that met our values started to join the team and therefore, we pulled together so much better as a team.

There is a parting shot that I want to share, that supports the values when hiring.  The person must really want the role.   

We've had it before where people meet the values, but have something in their mind that is just not right. Location is often the main one, sometimes money, and also if the role is in line with their personal vision in life. If you spot signs that the person does not really, really want the role, explore it much deeper. In order to grow a successful like-minded team, you really need to have people that match your values and passionately want to be part of the team.

For a full list of the Blueleaf company values, just to give you a steer, please click here. Do create your own though - it's your culture, it’s your future, it’s your game of life...:-)

Adrian Lomas is Founder and CEO of multi-award winning digital commerce agency, Blueleaf.

Clients include: Laura Ashley, Red Bull. Style Group Brands, Fat Face and Next.