Sue-Ellen Watts, Founder wattsnext
In 2017 Sue-Ellen and the wattsnext team were invited as leading social influencers to the largest global HR conference, Society for Human Resources Management held in America each year.
Their company mission/purpose is ‘we create great workplaces’ and the wattsnext company values are:
- We get it done with no ego and no excuses
- We have confidence to tell it as it is
- We work on the skinny branches
- We let our creative juices flow
- We are passionate and in the tough times we fight
1. What does values based leadership mean to you?
Firstly, I am very passionate about my belief that the vision, mission and values are the core of an organization and drive everything. The vision supports decisions made around the board table, the mission drives the customer experience and the values are the tools that the team can call upon to guide them, particularly when they are not sure what to do.
Values are there to guide the behaviors of a team in a non-hierarchical manner. They are the strongest tools managers have in their tool box, when designed well and used correctly of course. True values should underpin and assist decision making. They should never be just fancy words on a wall or website. However I strongly believe that when we decide on our values we shouldn’t choose words that we already live easily. Just like our vision I think our values should be somewhat aspirational. I like to look at where the gaps are in a business and how we must behave to achieve our vision and mission and create values to support that.
To me values based leadership is all about creating a work environment where the people treat the business like it is their own. It frees up a leader to be a true leader and not have to fall back to managing unnecessarily. Well-designed company values should guide the behavior of all employees, they should keep the train on its tracks. They should allow leaders to keep the flame alight (the purpose), to remain strategic and forward focused, while having the confidence that employee decisions are guided by the values. In essence people grow by making mistakes, taking risks and being curious and I see VBL as a leadership style that allows this to happen. Without putting the business at risk.
2. Can you give us an example of your VBL in action?
An example that stands out to me is when I was recently about to present to a group of conservative business professionals about the Future of Work. We had prepared a fun game to kick things off which involved balloons and some team fun. As I welcomed the guests into the room I was greeted by very conservative, reserved and mature business men. My immediate feeling was that I could not possibly do the balloon game! They would not appreciate it and I would lose credibility with this audience. However I knew that there was specific reason for this activity. We had designed the presentation the way we had because we have a different approach to HR and business and this activity was part of the overall message, not just a fun starter. I turned to my colleague and advised her that I was pulling the balloon game from the agenda. It was clear to both of us that I was scared of how we would be perceived. That was when the magic happened. My colleague did not hesitate in responding to me ‘skinny branches’! this is our courage value and it is place specifically for situations like this. Where we stop doing something that we know is authentic and right because we are scared. I had no response. I had to live our values and be brave. I did and the audience loved it!!! Not only did the value help me in that situation to keep true to our offering but it also allowed a direct report to hold the CEO to account which I love!
3. Who else have you seen employ VBL well?
We help our clients identify their Vision, Mission and Values so we are very spoilt to see some amazing leaders go through this process. I say we help our clients identify them as this is an art. The business owner must understand their story, what is important to them and what impact they have on the world. We help them extract this information and articulate their story. Many are intrinsically VBL’s, but the process allows them to become Values Based Leaders in their own right and educate others on their story.
What I have noticed by offering this service is how often established business owners have lost touch with their why. They are no longer connecting with why they started their business in the first place or what value they offer their customers. That is really sad for me because I love business and am insired by entrepreneurs and business owners. My favorite activity in our business is helping business owners and employees reconnect with the reason they go to work everyday and the impact they are having on the world!
4. What impact has VBL had on your team/company?
We live and breathe our Vision, Mission and Values every day, but VBL has allowed me to understand my own leadership style. I am a self-improvement junkie and allergic to micro management. I believe in people and that together we can make a difference, but it hasn’t always been that way. As the business has evolved I have had to evolve with it and I am a strong believer that you must understand where you are can have the largest impact. Values Based Leadership has given me the confidence to be strategic, forward focused and Ok with being the visionary. That is where I can impact into our next decade, VBL has helped me come to terms with the new leadership role I now have.