Above: Cosmetics retailer Lush says its staff fundamentally believe in its values and missions
Behind every successful brand is a defined mission, and a set of values according to which a company and its employees operate. But what are the best ways to train staff to understand and apply these?
“Our mission statement is simple: to be the best pet shop in the world,” explains Sally Hopson, customer and people director at Pets at Home.
“A mission statement isn’t something for the board to look at, it is for the whole organisation to focus on. We have worked hard over the years to refine it. When you get there, it then stands the test of time.”
“Values are separate. They are the way we behave together as an organisation – the standards of behaviour we expect. They are also written to make sure that they are then translated into how we treat our customers,” she says.
Pets at Home trains its staff on company values by making them visible throughout the business, so that they become part of everyday life. “On one page, one piece of paper, one diagram, we capture all the relevant parts of how we deliver that mission.
“It’s very simple, very visual and it sits in all our training material, on the backs of doors, and at store manager conferences we refer back to it.
“What keeps our values alive is having something very simple and to keep talking about it, keep bringing the business back to it. With time, people really get it.”
Values bind a company and its staff together. Japanese cosmetics and haircare business Kao, which has brands such as John Frieda and Molton Brown among its stable, says its corporate philosophy, the ‘Kao Way’ provides a solid foundation for the group’s business activities.
“In an environment where you’re working across international boundaries and lots of different functions within the organisation, you need to have something that acts as a guide for everyone, to bring them together and to give them a common set of purpose,” says Giles Gordon, marketing director for consumer products at Kao UK.
Kao’s mission for its goods is to have ‘products and brands of excellent value that are created from the consumers’ and customers’ perspective’.
This mission is supported by a strong set of values and principles, one of which is ‘Genba’, a Japanese term described as the importance of observing things ‘on-site’ in the actual location.
Gordon says that keeping Genba front of its employees’ minds helps the business to fulfil its vision to be ‘the company that is closest to the consumers and customers in our market.’
“We have a huge investment in research and development to make sure that we are addressing consumer needs. It is about getting out and seeing the consumer in their environment to spark discussion about how they are behaving and how that impacts our plans in the long term,” he says.
Rather than training staff to work in a corporate mission, Kao UK employees co-created a vision that works for the UK market, aiming to be the most respected premium beauty company.
“We spend time with consumers to see how they interact with products. We go through the shopper journey with them, from where they source their information, to when they pick up that product off the shelf.”
Being on the same page is critical to ensuring that a company achieves its aims, says Hilary Jones, ethics director at handmade cosmetics retailer Lush.
“The founders of our company share a sense of purpose and it really helps if our staff share it too – that is what pushes it forward. We cannot do it alone. Since we campaign via our shops, ultimately, the people doing that are the shop staff. Having shop staff who share the belief is really handy.”
Lush also ensures its staff both understand and channel its values and includes training on its ethics when talking about products.
“We don’t just talk about the ingredients in a product, but why they are in there, where they are bought from, why they’re bought that way,” she says.
Lush also makes sure that staff have access to the company founders, so they can discuss issues that they feel are important. “I toured the country every October to December for three years, talking to our shop staff,” says Jones.
“When we have specific [charity or ethical] campaigns going on, the charities come in to talk to our staff. These are people who live and breathe the campaigns and issues 24 hours a day and having them in is a privilege and useful for our staff when they have to pass those messages on to customers.”
But who should define the vision of a company and once agreed, should these values remain static? “Mission is ‘top down’,” says Hopson at Pets at Home.
“You write it and push it through the organisation. Values should be bottom up. What is it really like here and what do we want it to be? If you can’t get everybody on the same page, you probably haven’t got the right values,” she says.
Pets at Home, which was voted The Sunday Times Best Big Company to Work for in 2013, carried out an audit of its values a couple of years ago, to make sure its employees still felt they were relevant and representative of the company and its ethos.
“We went through our teams, all the way down to store manager, who then gave us feedback. I wondered if they might recommend more change but they didn’t,” says Hopson. “They still felt that our existing values are at the heart of who we are and how we behave together.
“Having done that, we re-emphasise our values at every opportunity. I don’t think you can say things like mission and values often enough to people. One of our values is ‘we get better everyday.’
“Whenever we make a change to a procedure, we think about it on that basis. How is this getting better everyday? Better for a colleague, better for the customer, even better for the bottom line is OK, but bring it back to that value.”
Jones at Lush agrees that a company’s vision should come from all corners of the business. “Those of us at the top of the company do have a say in what we do, but there’s just as many ideas that bubble up from the shops and our factory,” she says.
The company has a strong set of ethical values; it is against animal testing and is concerned with climate change and the environment, as well as human rights issues. It demonstrates these values not only in the way it creates its products, but by campaigning through its network of shops.
“Our highest profile campaign has been about raising money for an anti-fox hunting group,” says Jones. “That idea came from a small group of shop managers who put that campaign together and put it to senior management saying: ‘this is what we would like to do, this is the product we would like to sell, this is who we would like to give the money to and this is what we would like to say in our windows’.”
The benefits of a collaborative vision and set of values is obvious, but in a constantly changing consumer world, how do brands ensure values stay relevant?
In a presentation at drinks maker Diageo’s investor conference last November, it described its performance ambition ‘to create one of the best performing, most trusted and respected consumer products companies in the world’.
One way to achieve this was with new behaviours that it trains and encourages its staff to follow.
It expressed a wish to unleash behaviours, such as ‘act as an owner’, ‘be bold in execution’, ‘be agile’ and ‘everyone sells or helps to sell’. Recent examples of becoming more agile include innovation in spirits production in Africa and moving quickly in the ultra-premium bourbon market in the US.
Gordon at Kao UK says that while its central principle of Genba remains the same, the way the business achieves it is always evolving.
“The principle itself remains very solid, however, the information or the way in which it is collected is kept fresh”, he says. “You have got to make sure the insights you’re getting are relevant and conducted in a way that resonates with the consumer, otherwise you risk not having the right kind of information or discussion points to future proof yourself.
“That’s what Genba is about: that you really understand the consumer in the environment and that environment is today.”
Both Pets at Home and Lush claim their staff are fundamentally on board with their values.
“It is clear that staff care about these values,” says Hopson. “We could not have the relationship with our customers that we do, which ultimately drives spend, and frequency and loyalty, if we didn’t have people who really wanted to be here. Ninety-three per cent of people who work for us have a pet.”
Similarly, Lush says that people often apply for jobs at the company having heard about its ethical stance. “The more we have campaigned, the more staff arrive at our door for interview, already understanding all of that and wanting to be part of it. Those highly motivated staff really push us forward. If companies want to train their staff on their values, they need to talk about them publicly.”
And an engaged staff will increase the bottom line. “We have customer satisfaction measure NPS and we can rank stores with high engagement,” says Hopson. “They have a higher level of customer satisfaction, which translates to a higher spend.”
Kao brands sweet spot
Genba is a fundamental principle within Japanese beauty group Kao’s business. The direct translation from Japanese is ‘actual spot’. It defines the importance of observing what is happening in the actual location where things take place, says Giles Gordon, marketing director for consumer products at Kao UK.
“When you’re looking at the consumer, it could be observing them in the their natural habitat – their home, their bathroom, when they are shopping, when they are on their phone, on Facebook – in so many different scenarios,” he says.
“Genba is the principal that runs through the whole of our business, no matter what function you work in.”
Using Genba as a key principle means three things, says Gordon:
1. Understanding the consumer and seeing them where they are, in order to understand them better.
2. Sharing the information that the company picks up about them in those situations internally, to enhance capability and future offerings.
3. Constantly get fresh ideas in its innovation and communications pipelines. Genba tends to act as a catalyst for what Kao is doing as an organisation – usually it will spark a discussion or a future project.
“How do we bring it to life? It is not something that we will specifically set tasks as an outcome against. For us, Genba is a behaviour and it runs through the whole company and everybody takes a very active interest in it,” says Gordon.
How to train your staff in your brand’s values
Use them as a unifying force across the business
“In an environment where you’re working across international boundaries and across lots of different functions within the organisation, you need to have something that acts as a guide for everyone, to really give them a common sense of purpose and ultimately, give us all something to measure ourselves against,” says Giles Gordon, marketing director of consumer brands at Kao UK.
Reassess them with your staff
“Every decade you should look at your values and say: ‘are they still right?’ We looked at ours and thought: ‘they look broadly right to us. But what do we know?’
So we went through a consultation exercise with every colleague in the business and said: ‘this is what they are. Now what do you think they should be.’ By going through that exercise, we reinforce who we are and the way we work as a team,” says Sally Hopson, customer and people director at Pets at Home.
Recruit staff that understand your brand
“As a retailer it’s easier for us to attract people that share our values without having to do that much, apart from put our values in the window. People see what we campaign about and the kind of staff in our shops and they get it, before they even put their application in.
“Once you have those kinds of people that want to come and work for you because of those reasons, training them becomes a lot easier,” says Hilary Jones, ethics director at Lush.