Live and die by your firm’s values. Or don’t have them at all…

Do you know your firm’s values? Are they hidden away on your website gathering cyber dust, or do they actually guide your decision-making and behaviour?

At the BDLN we’ve lost count of the number of firms that talk about their values but then clearly fail to live them. And for us, that’s a big factor behind why so many fail to stand out. Almost all firms offer the same services, so the only way to differentiate relates to ways in which your people interact, make decisions and behave. And those are intrinsically linked to a firm’s values.

One firm that is standing out at the moment is BKL. It has enjoyed 10% growth over the past two years, increased its partnership table from 13 to 21, recently merged with a firm to open a second office in Cambridge and is sending out a loud, clear message to the market that it is hungry to keep moving forward. Audit partner and head of marketing, Myfanwy Neville, puts that momentum down to the new clarity with which BKL sees itself.

“We’ve really worked out who we are,” she says. “We sat down and crunched out what we thought BKL’s values were. Then the partners “trialled” them for a few weeks – sense-checked any business decisions against them and reported back with feedback. There were a few instances where early drafts didn’t quite work, so we went back to the drawing board with feedback until we all agreed that they worked in practice as well as on paper. It was an exciting exercise and I love what we’ve come up with. To grow we need to know exactly who we are so we can expand in the right way and retain our authenticity.”

Now’s the time to blow the dust off your firm’s values, ensure that they’re still relevant and most importantly, stop talking about them, start living them…

Those BKL values are not just empty words on a website, says Myfanwy, but rather a genuine guide that impact on every business decision. She gives an example: “We’ve made a number of significant strategic decisions recently, and we’ve brought in new teams and partners to the firm. The values have been one of the key decision-making tools throughout this process – we look at a problem alongside each value and find they usually point to an answer that feels right for BKL. It’s been especially useful for making sure we bring the right partners to the table – we start with a very open conversation to make sure our values are aligned before taking things any further. It sounds a bit clichéd, but it just gives you something to focus your thinking on what’s really important for the firm.”

Myfanwy continues: “All of the firm’s marketing has followed on from our values. Who are we? What do we want to say about ourselves? How do we want to say it? You have to be able to clearly answer those questions before you send out any messages to the market.”

When valued, believed in and – crucially – acted upon, a firm’s values bring confidence and clarity. They allow an organisation to have the courage of its convictions and to stand out in a large, increasingly homogenous crowd. So now’s the time to blow the dust off your firm’s values, ensure that they’re still relevant and most importantly, stop talking about them, start living them.