Values? What do
“values” have to do with business? In a word: everything!
Let me assure you – I see core values as a hard-nosed, nuts-and-bolts,
common-sense business practice, just like reading a balance sheet or
reducing costs. It’s simply a way to ensure that everyone on the team
knows what is important.
isn’t about “touchy-feely.” It’s not about trust exercises or
Every business has a
culture. (You new-age types can call it a “personality” if you want
to.) The culture is formed over time and is shaped largely by the
owner’s or manager’s input, but also by dozens of other internal and
external factors ... employees, the industry you’re in, your location,
customers, and on and on.
Some of these factors
are beyond your control, but some are not. As an owner or manager, you
can – and should - have a major impact on your company’s culture.
You can let it happen or you can make it happen. Either way, a culture
once formed is difficult to change.
So, what makes up a
culture? All sorts of things. Workaholism versus eight-hour days. Fun
versus serious. Honest versus dishonest. Friendly versus
confrontational. Direct versus evasive. Lunch with others or eat at your
desk. How employees dress, whether lateness is tolerated ... all this
and much more is the stuff of company cultures.
A big part of a
business’ culture centers on the values that drive actions and
decisions. You may not care whether your employees eat at the desk or go
out, but you darn sure better care whether they are being honest with
recommendation for every company: Determine what values and principles
are important to you, and then go about the serious work of injecting
these values into the workforce.
If you don't spell out what's important, then the implication is that
either nothing is important or everything is important - trouble either
Here’s an example:
Let’s say Joe is an inside sales rep. He’s relatively new on the
job, and was put in his position with a little product training but no
orientation on what’s important to the company. He brought some bad
habits, including making promises to customers and not following
through. His manager doesn’t find out until a furious customer calls
him directly. By now, though, Joe has done significant damage. The owner
truly wants to do right by customers and genuinely cares about keeping
commitments. Trouble is, he’s removed from day-to-day activities and
has never really communicated his values to his people.
But Bob works at a
different company, where it is commonly known that not keeping promises
to customers is absolutely unacceptable behavior. In this company, the
owners and managers “walk the talk” – setting a stellar example
for others. This value is discussed in meetings and in new employee
orientations, is used in performance reviews, and shows up on job
descriptions. Do you think Bob shares Joe’s cavalier attitude toward
commitments to customers in such a company?
This is the
difference between ignoring what’s important and building a
values-based culture on purpose.
Adopting a set of
values is not about picking a litany of lofty goals that nobody can live
up to. A company must identify those principles that the top people are
passionate about and can adopt without hesitation. Employees watch
company leaders like a hawk, and hypocrisy will kill a values initiative
in a flash.
What values to pick
then? Each company must answer that question for itself. A technology
firm might choose “innovation” as a key value. “Quality” could
be a hallmark for a homebuilder.
How you go about
choosing your important values isn’t important, as long as sufficient
time is taken to ensure you hear from all the important stakeholders.
Gather input and kick it around. Don’t be afraid to include the
rank-and-file in this process, either. Good ideas are not the exclusive
domain of folks with private offices. By the way, these discussions are
as close to “touchy-feely” as this gets.
I suggest that while
you look at “what we want to be”, you also spend time on things like
the founder’s values and vision for the company, what you’re about
right now, and what values got you to this point.
Whatever values are
chosen – and a handful is plenty – the company needs to really work
at making them second nature for all the employees. This doesn’t
happen overnight. About the time you think your staff is getting tired
of hearing a message, that’s about the time it’s just starting to
Truly adopting this
mindset means that all decisions are filtered through your values.
Values are used in business planning, hiring, rewarding, promotions, and
even in firing.
As cliché as it
sounds, your values are in charge. You can't possibly watch every
employee every minute of every day, nor should you want to. But, your
principles do accompany every employee every minute of every day. Tell
them: When in doubt, consult our values and make a decision.
Companies with broken
cultures and flawed values can be fixed, but it’s a long haul. And,
there’s an additional step – acknowledging past failures. Ownership
has to meet with the staff and admit that the company has been
off-course ... that ownership and management have allowed this to
happen. But, here’s the new direction. Owners and managers will set
the example. Old ways are out. One hundred percent buy-in is needed.
will no doubt be met with skepticism, but once employees see that
management is serious, and this isn’t the “program of the month”,
they’ll come around. Those who can’t or won’t have to go.
Here is perhaps the
most powerful sign that it’s working: Your employees start enforcing
the culture. When you hear one of them tell another, “That’s not how
we do things around here”, you’ll know your hard work is paying off.
Here’s a summary of
how values are chosen and how they are used:
Values are chosen that are
important to all stakeholders and important to your success
Ownership and top management
set the example
The company’s values are
Everyone buys in, enforces,
and lives the values
All decisions are made with
values in mind, including planning, hiring, rewarding, promotions,
Notice that I
haven’t said anything about sharing your values with customers.
Certainly, many companies do this. It’s good to communicate what your
firm is all about to your marketplace. But this should be the last
reason to adopt a set of company values.
Adopting and living
up to a set of guiding values can literally transform your business.
Don’t assume your people know what’s important – tell them. It’s
hard work and a long process, but it will eventually have a positive
impact on your bottom line.
Bill Collier is
a St. Louis-based business coach, consultant and speaker. He is the
author of the book “How to
Succeed as a Small Business Owner … and Still Have a Life.” His
website is www.collierbiz.com,
and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org
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