What beliefs are driving your firm?

Most companies have defined values, although they are not always understood or propagated through the business effectively. Sometimes their top down nature means there’s very little buy in from across the organisation. In this edition of the Vantage Performance podcast Michael Fingland suggests to Phil Dobbie that these values need to be determined by beliefs held by individuals within the company. A short workshop would be enough to gather a simple understanding of the way your staff think about things.

Phil Dobbie: Welcome to the Vantage Performance Podcast, I’m Phil Dobbie. Now, we often hear about company values that can be particularly useful when you’re joining a company to see whether their values match yours. But you know words like “excellence”, “respect” and “teamwork” are often bandied about, but what does it really mean? At Coca-Cola, for example, the values are “leadership, collaboration, integrity, accountability, passion, diversity, and quality”. Doesn’t really leave much out, does it? And it’s all a bit general. What about beliefs that exist within your company? What is it about the way your staff are thinking that is driving you forward? Do you know or is now the time to find out?

Well, Michael Fingland went through the process of finding out at Vantage Performance, and he thinks all companies should do the same to try and understand how your people are thinking. Michael, what do we mean by beliefs? Companies, as I’ve said, companies have values and we expect people to adhere to those values. But when we’re talking beliefs, this is something different, isn’t it?

Michael Fingland: It’s different but it’s all part of the same process, if you like. All business owners know that one of the main keys to driving greater improvement in the business productivity, etc. etc. and performance, is to have a great culture. You can’t have a great culture unless as part of that process you have a very clearly-articulated set of values that you want the firm to stand for and that they’re very well-communicated through the business, which is often very poorly done by a lot of businesses.

Very few business owners understand what actually drives your value set. And to actually work out what the right values are for the firm, you actually need to go one step deeper which is understanding what belief system that the owners and the staff currently have about how they believe the way that the world works and the way the business should work within it. What I’m gonna talk about today is what is that belief system and how do you go through a process of really uncovering all those so you can more quickly and accurately understand that value set and then communicate that and embed that into the team, which ultimately improves the performance of the business.

Phil: Let’s look at a specific example then. So I understand the difference between a belief and a value. A company might say, “Look, one of the values of our company is that people debate. That we listen and discuss before we arrive at decisions within this business.” Is that a value or is that a belief? How does that relate?

Michael: It’s a value, but a belief system drives your value system. So, perhaps what I’ll do is outline what a belief is. A belief is a conclusion about how the world works, in a very broad sense. It’s a state of mind in which a person thinks something to be the case. You take it on faith. You don’t need proof of it. And once formed, your beliefs direct your future actions. That’s what a belief system’s all about. And a bit of understanding

Phil: And we all have different beliefs, of course. We’re all geared differently. Our mindsets are very different. I would have thought you meant for a lot of companies, you actually wanna have a variety of beliefs, different ways of working, so that that somehow gels together and you get a sum that is greater than the parts.
Michael: That’s right. A bit of understanding of the beliefs held by your staff and what you’d like to be the beliefs held by the firm is critical in understanding how to drive better performance. Just to get some context. Our values at Vantage, one is empathy because we’re often dealing with clients in critical stress so we need to really understand what they’re going through. Innovation, collaboration, because we work with a whole range of stakeholders in that sort of project management role that we do to get the businesses through, and a real sense of urgency because time is always of the essence in a lot of our roles.

We recently did, as you mentioned at the outset, an internal workshop really trying to understand what the belief system is that we all hold. You’ll find and what we’re gonna encourage all business owners to do is actually run this workshop yourself. It’s a very simple just brainstorming session. And you’ll uncover a lot of those statements and closely-held beliefs that you have are already there, but they’re very loosely-aligned or loosely-communicated.

If you remember those value sets that we had, empathy, innovation, collaboration, and sense of urgency. When we went through our own belief system brainstorming session, the number of the beliefs that came out are as follows: Early intervention. Number one. One of our big belief system is early intervention is the key to solving critical business challenges. Because we fundamentally hold that very dear to our heart, we’ve done a lot of marketing and networking and lobbying and a whole range of things. You sort of join the dots going back because trying to make it all what has driven our behaviour in this space over the last 13 years that we’ve been in business about helping to grow the turnaround industry, getting involved in the industry body to grow the awareness of turnaround, grow the awareness of early intervention. It’s because one of our closely-held beliefs is early intervention is critical to solving those challenges.

Another one is there’s an opportunity in every crisis. We fundamentally believe that no matter what state of condition or issues that are affecting a business, one, there’s always a way to solve it as long as early intervention is there. If you hold that dear, you look for those opportunities, you look for those little gems. One of the other big belief systems we have which a lot of businesses might have is you’re only as good as your last job. You never stop trying to improve and you never rest on your laurels.

One of the most dear ones that we hold here is that if you look after your people, they’ll always look after your customers. The old adage of “customers are number one”, that’s an old, tired, broken belief system in a model. It’s been proven time and time again that if you focus on your staff, they’ll always look after your customers. So, you end up with happy staff and very happy customers. If that’s a belief system, then you’re gonna keep investing in your people and making sure that this is a great place to work because you know that that’s a critical driver of customer performance, which leads to business performance.

These are just a few of the belief system or beliefs that came out of that workshop which gave us a lot more clarity around why we exist, and you can then utilise that. One, it gives life to your value set because a lot of businesses have tried to roll out their value system across the business. At the very least, they might put some posters up on the shop floor. But it doesn’t resonate, it doesn’t embed, and what we’re trying to say here is if you go one step deeper and really uncover the beliefs that you have as a firm and what do you generally believe as a firm about the way you wanna work in the world, that gives greater resonance to the value set, which means it will get embedded much better.

Phil: Yeah. Well, actually, it’s a bottom-up approach as to a top-down approach, isn’t it? 

Michael: It is. It is.

Phil: And I think very often when you have values presented to you, you just go, “Oh, we’re just getting told this. This has come from the top, we’re supposed to adhere to it. But, you know, I’m an individual. Why should I follow this?”

Michael: Exactly. So, getting clarity around your mission, your value set, your why or purpose, is a very difficult process when you’re running a very busy business. This is a very simple half-an-hour workshop, I encourage all business owners to do this. It can uncover a lot of gems and give the staff a lot greater clarity and greater purpose. That’s what you’re trying to achieve as a business owner, is to try and get the real connection with your staff so you don’t have to keep motivating them.  The best businesses are where you don’t have to keep motivating your people. If you’ve got to continually motivate your people then that’s a clear sign that you don’t have a very clear sense of why or purpose and you don’t have a very clear belief and value system. It makes your job much harder.

Phil: Because they don’t feel involved, of course.

Michael: Don’t feel involved and they don’t feel connected. Yeah. They don’t feel really connected at a deeper level.

Phil: So, you’re saying it’s an easy process. Is this part of the Vantage Performance secret sauce or are you gonna tell us how to stage these workshops? Do we pick up the phone and talk to you guys? You’re saying it’s simple, but I would’ve thought it’s one of those things that seems a little bit nebulous, it would be hard to extract the information, particularly in a short time-frame.

Michael: This is one of those workshops where you really don’t need a facilitator. I mean, you can get a facilitator in, but if you’ve already uncovered what your value systems are, then it’s just having an open discussion about what…because it’s pretty easy to articulate what a belief is, there’s a thousand definitions on the web. So, it’s really, you know, just a very simple, you know, do it in your Monday morning weekly huddle or whatever you call it, and just have an open discussion about what do we believe as a firm.

I’d start by articulating what your values are. If you haven’t got a value system, then I would start with a belief workshop and then articulate or clarify that into a set of values. Don’t over-engineer this, this is a simple process. It’s more about just stimulating a conversation. Where do we wanna be in the world? What do we believe? There might be some internal beliefs that the staff might have which are holding the business back. So it may well be there’s no room for promotion in the firm because of its flat structure, for argument’s sake.

It’s important to give the staff freedom to come up with some of those beliefs that are inhibiting performance in the business which you can then work on. There’s two types of beliefs you cane have. There’s beliefs around the way the business operates and how we believe we operate in our market, then there’s internally-held beliefs which might be holding the business back, or opinions. In the workshop, you’re gonna probably come up with two distinct sort of groups of beliefs. That’s important to differentiate between those two groups. One is to help set value sets and your messaging pitch to the market, and the other one is about how to unblock deep bottleneck certain issues that you’ve got in the business, which can also be incredibly valuable.


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