Defining ‘What we value’ at Cranfield University: Toolkit, training and specialist guidance to run a ‘Big Values Conversation’ in-house


“We wanted to do as much of the work on values ourselves as possible, so that values emerged genuinely from the inside. We liked Belonging Space’s approach for us to drive a ‘Big Conversation’ ourselves. The tools and techniques were easy to use.”

Duncan Murray, Director of Communications, Cranfield University


Defining the values of Belonging – from the inside

Belonging, by its nature, comes from the inside. This is exactly how we helped Cranfield University: enabling their in-house team to define and share ‘What we value at Cranfield’ from within.

The project ran throughout 2019, resulting in authentic and meaningful values statements to guide ethos and behaviour in all that the University does.

The ‘Big Conversation’ about what we value

Belonging Space provided specialist guidance, programme shape, toolkit and training to the Project Team, enabling them to run the project in-house.

We trained a team of facilitators in how to run the Toolkit of techniques and activities.

Duncan Murray, Director of Communications:

“We wanted to do as much of the work on values ourselves as possible, so that values emerged genuinely from the inside. We liked Belonging Space’s approach for us to drive a ‘Big Conversation’ ourselves, and the tools and techniques were easy to use.”

Belonging Space’s highly participative approach

Isabel Collins, Founder, explains:

“Active involvement is a great way to foster a sense of belonging. We love to enable client teams with tools to run self-sufficiently rather than having things done to them by an outside consultant. 

We stepped in for expert guidance at key milestones, but most of the digging and building was by the team within Cranfield University, using our process and techniques.”

Phase 1: Toolkit, training and A ‘Big Conversation’ right across the University

The Toolkit was like a ‘recipe book’, including a variety of activities, each with a script, how to run it, materials and tips.

The team led workshops and short discussions involving all schools and departments.


Duncan Murray continues:

 “It was helpful to have a range of stimulus, different contexts and lengths of discussion time, so that our team could choose what best suited their people. It’s pragmatic, and also channels the high level of enthusiasm we tapped into.” 

The cross-disciplinary project team was led by Duncan Murray and Helen Perkins, Director of HR, working closely with Philip Aspinall, Chief Operating Officer, the Vice-Chancellor Sir Peter Gregson, and the Executive team. The tight collaboration between Comms and HR, as one project team, forged the success of this in-house approach.

We used Belonging Space’s online platform to capture feedback and set a process to filter through to core beliefs, in the language used, so that the expression was faithful to the employee voice.

Cranfield University is unique in many ways. Having grown out of a WW2 RAF base it still has its own airfield, and its engineering, aeronautics, defence and management specialisms are world-renowned. As an entirely postgraduate university, Cranfield’s world-class expertise, large-scale facilities and unrivalled industry partnerships are creating leaders in technology and management globally.

The result is a set of four values for Cranfield University, communicated with clarity and context, and supported with practical application as well as aspirational stretch.

Let’s look at how we got there…

An inclusive experience to foster a sense of belonging

More than half the University employees (academic and wider staff) contributed and helped refine to the core statements of what we value.

Philip Aspinall, Chief Operating Officer, says:

“We’re pleased by the way Belonging Space guided our internal team to run this – and by the scale of involvement right across the University. This process resulted in values that are authentic, true to our heritage, and at the heart of our vision and the exciting future we are achieving as a University.”


Providing specialist guidance for team to self-manage

Duncan comments

“It made a real difference working with the expert guidance of Isabel Collins, Belonging Space’s Founder, as a leading specialist in values.

It was a healthy partnership: sharing deep expertise in bursts of close involvement and then hands-off, leaving us to get on with it. We had worked together in our previous experience, around the time of Isabel’s research study into ‘The value of values’, and this has certainly helped us unlock the value of Cranfield.”

Checking back on themes in Values Open Sessions

The team ran a series of Values Open Sessions around the University, a pop-up exhibition sharing key themes from final input, with a video interview with VC Sir Peter Gregson, and capturing direct feedback from participants.

Angelisa Allen, Head of Internal Communications:

“This step in Belonging Space’s process was invaluable. People took part with careful consideration. We validated the themes, and also finetuned the language describing what each one means to us.”


The result: four strong statements of what we value, what we do about this, and how everybody upholds these values.


Launch day

Angelisa and the team organised another lively day for launch, with plenty of participation by senior team.

Phase 2: Putting values into action, Managers’ training

We created a Handbook to support Managers, and trained the HR team and facilitators to support managers and teams throughout Cranfield.

This set of activities is geared to applying the values in context and relevance to everyday work – raising the expectation to see what we value through how we do things.

We devised activities and provided content, which the Cranfield team designed into a Handbook in-house.


Helen Perkins, Director of Human Resources, says:

“Defining the values in our own Cranfield voice was a big step. But of course the real test is how we put them into action, make these principles the heart of our processes and positively encourage everyone’s commitment to upholding them.”

Phase 3: Values into HR and performance management

Helen stresses that values isn’t ‘ticking a box’ – the work continues:

“So now we’re building in values at every stage of our employee lifecycle and experience – from recruitment and onboarding, to career development, and what it means to do a great job at Cranfield. We’ve set our foundations, and this phase of embedding work is ongoing through 2020.”

What we value at Cranfield and what we do about it

The resulting set of values is built into the University’s daily life, careers process, internal discussions and shared externally on the website.

This final language has come through the process, setting out what Cranfield values and how everyone upholds this ethos.

“Our shared, stated values help to define who we are and underpin everything we do. They were developed with the active engagement of colleagues across the University, and keeping them alive will ensure we’re all working in an organisation that we’re proud of. 

Each of our four values is supported by a high-level statement and framework to guide the way we behave and shape our decisions.”

“At Cranfield we value:

  • Ambition – We aim high. We do all we can to achieve excellence.
  • Impact – We change lives. We make the world a better place.
  • Respect – We value everyone’s expertise. We support each other.
  • Community – We build and cherish our Cranfield community. We embrace diversity.”

What’s the impact of this work for Cranfield University?

Cranfield’s film ‘What we value at Cranfield: the role we all play’ captures colleagues’ perspectives on values in action around the University.

Professor Graham Braithwaite, sees value in the process as well as the outcome:

“It was a conversation across the whole University about who we really are – it’s about more than just a workplace: our values inform everything we do and the way we do it.”

As Professor Helen Atkinson concludes the film:

“Values are not a ‘big bang’ or something where ‘You’ve DONE Values’… This is what we hold dear, what inspires and challenges us. I’m very excited that it’s bringing together for the whole University a sense of our shared identity”

Philip Aspinall, Chief Operating Officer sums up the power of belonging to Cranfield University with shared values:

“We are committed to making the best impact we can in all that we do in Cranfield and around the world”

With a strong team, leadership support and high level involvement, a self-managed programme like this can be far more effective in defining values and nurturing belonging.  

 Belonging Space loves to empower teams to run projects in-house. Our toolkits to define what we value and to put values into action have been a great success with clients including Cranfield University, The Royal College of Physicians and UK Youth. 

Call us to chat through how this might work for your organisation.   07792 433680