If you are like many of our clients, chances are your organization has a value statement. As a business leader, not only will you be responsible for knowing those values, but quite possibly, establishing those values. Values can be very important…or just meaningless words in a placard that only takes up wall space. In our work with clients—especially when we do pre-hire work to assess fit—we always ask: what matters to you, the client. Does your mission, vision and values affect how the organization behaves and what your customers and employees can expect, or are they just empty platitudes.
Here are some things we have seen that give values concrete reality.
Values that differentiate
Even in 2017, we continue to see statements like striving for excellence and having a sense of urgency. Not bad ideas by any means. But when was the last time you dealt with an organization that said We strive for mediocrity and in addition we’re lazy?
Compare this with one of our client’s, a consulting firm, value: If you’re awake, I’m awake. Because billing determines most consultants’ compensation, the value highlights the if and only if I get to bill my time ideology many consultants share. For instance, if a client calls and needs help, many consultants respond, “Sure, if it’s my client.” Instead, we helped this consulting firm establish that part of their culture was for consultants to respond, internally or externally, regardless of billing.
Values are enforced
One of our construction client’s value is: we respect our people. But we, tactfully of course, pointed out the SVP of Field Operations was notoriously disrespectful. After the owner highlighted the amount of business the SVP controlled, our quiet, blank stares turned him sheepish. We have other clients who will – and have – fired top producers who were rude to receptionists. If you publish a set of values the leaders don’t follow, employees quickly learn those values are empty platitudes.
Values are part of screening – of both employees and clients
At RPG, we love to do business and add new clients. If we find a client doesn’t treat people honestly and fairly, we will fire them – and we have.
The consulting firm that demanded teamwork in the absence of billing was of no interest to some qualified consultants. That was just fine with the consulting firm – don’t work here.
Values are revisited regularly and they are used as the basis to make decisions
We have clients that will start a new project and ask the E-team such questions as: Does this benefit our community? Can we do quality work on this budget? And even more pointedly, Is this project consistent with our values? The same client that fired the top producer for demeaning and rude behavior directed to the receptionist, also starts every conversation about which companies to buy with the question, Is buying this small company consistent with our values, ethics and who we are? Doing this reinforces their standards and reminds everyone that part of their values is that doing the right thing is not subservient to the almighty dollar.
Of course values are hard to follow!
We recently listened to two lectures about servant leadership. The first speaker was a well-spoken academic who made it sound so natural and easy. The second speaker was the CEO of a large technology company. He began by saying, “Over the last ten years, we have done servant leadership wrong in just about every way you can.” The audience responded very well to him. After all, companies are made up of people—all of whom are fallible. As with so many things in life, if it’s too easy, how important is it really?
Regardless of your current position, it is always a good time to think about what you hold important, what matters to you, your values and hot buttons. This exercise helps you get clear about what you want in an organization. If you are working in an environment that runs counter to your ethics and standards, you will not be happy for long. But if it is consistent with your ethics, that culture fit means a lot of minor irritants and flaws can be overlooked.
Robyn Porterfield is Managing Principal and Bob Rose Principal of Dallas-based Rose Porterfield Group. They consult to executive teams in a wide range of business areas dealing with people at work.