Every company has a set of values. They are the norms that describe what is important to the organization, and the behaviors that are encouraged and rewarded. Some of these values are what you see on the walls of the building- but often there are different values playing out between the walls. The new CEO at Uber has just rewritten their values, dropping “hustling,” “toe-stepping,” and “principled confrontation” and replacing them with, among others, “We celebrate differences” and “We do the right thing. Period.” Or perhaps you are on your second or third iteration of your company’s values, leaving your employees skeptical that you really know what you stand for. If your company’s values include integrity, commitment to customers, or teamwork/trust you’re in good company-According to the Booz Allen Hamilton and Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program researchers, 90% of companies reference ethical behavior/integrity, 88% mention commitment to customers, and 76% cite teamwork and trust. As my CEO, Ann Fandozzi, says, “I’m pretty sure our competition’s values aren’t we have no integrity so come work here. If your values don’t differentiate you, then they aren’t valuable.” Yet values do matter. According to a global survey by HR.com, one of the top 5 drivers of employee engagement is alignment between your personal values and your company’s values. At Abra we are on a quest to create values that mean something to our team, to our customers, and to the way we do business. We are getting great input, feedback, and buy-in as we work to create not just new values but a new way of leading our teams and our business.
Values and teams. It is ironic that the two most common approaches to creating values is either to hire an external consultant or to have a small group of executives pen them. If values are our guiding principles, then we believe our employees should lead the way. When we began this journey, I spoke to the executive team and said for this to resonate across the organization, our values must come from voices across the organization. We are a national, production-driven organization, so this is not an easy task. But we partnered with the leaders across our stores and organized short focus groups. When we couldn’t pull people together, we took our notepads and talked with employees at their workstations –in the paint booth, next to a car, at the front desk. We asked 5 questions:
- What do you like best about working at Abra?
- What makes you proud to be an Abra employee?
- What makes Abra unique?
- How does a satisfied customer talk about Abra?
- What does Abra need to do to become the Employer of Choice?
Over the course of 5 months we collected 90 pages of notes from over 300 employees. We are now going through this feedback and extracting the essence of what our employees said. We are not editing or changing their words – just summarizing. The nuances and examples our teams shared are the heart of what they value- and will be reflected in our final summary.
Values and Customers. My family likes Panera. They have a great selection of healthy foods, and the quick food vs. fast food environment quells my mom guilt. We love our Panera because of Justine. Justine always greets our family with a smile, remembers my kids’ orders, and engages them in small talk. To engaged employees, the organization’s success is personal. It matters. It’s a reflection of them and what they believe in, who they are, how they show up in the world. In a service industry, the customer’s experience IS your brand, so your company values should also reflect what is important to your customers. We are reviewing our customer survey data to identify common themes from our customers and our employees. We want our values to be our brand – but more importantly we want them to be our Justine –the essence of your experience with us.
Values and Business. Identifying the values is the easy part. Creating the process to integrate these values into the way you conduct business is hard. There are some obvious places to start – interview guides, recognition, and communication. These steps are critical, but if you want to see a great model of building your business around values, look at Zappos. All Zappos’ employees spend their first three to four weeks manning phones in their call center. This training helps new hires learn the business, but it also provides an internal resource for the company. Zappos does not hire temps during the busy seasons – all employees are expected to sign up for shifts in the call center during the busy seasons. For employees hired directly into the call center, once you complete your four weeks of training you are offered $3,000.00 to leave the company. Not stay- leave. The Zappos’ philosophy is if you haven’t committed to the company and the values, then you should leave. Think about what that could look like – and say about – your company if you did something similar. Powerful.
The article Ban These 5 Words from your Corporate Values Statement recently appeared in the Harvard Business Review. (1) Ethics and Integrity -as discussed, those are table stakes. (2) Collaboration. As the author says, if your employees aren’t working collaboratively, listing it as a core value isn’t the solution. (3) Authenticity- that should not be an aspiration, it should be a reality. (4) Fun- if you have to claim you are fun, you probably aren’t. (5) Customer-centric- all of us in the for profit sector best be customer-centric. Dig deeper and do the hard work to really understand what is important to your employees and your customers. Take an honest look at your business model and ask if this aligns with what our employees and customers value? Join me on a quest to create values that mean something to your team, to your customers, and to the way you do business.