When I started this column, I wondered if there would be enough material to write about week in, week out.
This area is filled with people who have been willing to share their workplace questions, stories and experiences. In addition, I’m able to interact with many of you at various workshops, games and other venues, and those interactions provide opportunities to learn. Thank you.
This column is on organizational values. Some organizations are better than others when it comes to living up to those values.
Research featured in the book, “Built to Last,” by Jim Collins examined companies that last a long time compared to those that do not. Values were shown to play a critical role in organizations attaining and sustaining success.
I imagine the same is true for people.
Collins points out that every organization will face times when they must choose between profit and values. Companies that chose profit found it helped short term, but long term, they didn’t do well. The companies that chose values took a short-term financial hit, but the research showed they were run better and lasted much longer.
An often-cited example is the way Johnson & Johnson handled the case of deaths related to someone tampering with Tylenol in 1982. The company came out very quickly, communicated the issue, did a large recall and took a similarly large financial hit. However, the company gained respect for how it handled the situation and it recovered financially.
Another example: A company’s research and development team was working on an experiment with the potential for a highly profitable outcome. In the process, it stumbled upon another never-before-seen solution that wasn’t profitable, but it could be a huge help to many third-world countries that could not pay the company.
Did the company nix the unprofitable solution? No, it made the solution public for nothing.
It chose values, something that could help the world, over profits. Today it is still very successful company. Values may cost dollars, but living the organizational values are always the right decision.
In most presentations, I close with a point about always bringing it back to values. Why? If an action connects to a person’s values, the person will always take the action even if it is hard, if they are tired, if their team is short staffed or any other hurdle.
The discomfort of not being true to one’s values is worse than whatever action it takes to live the values.
I worked for an organization in the 1990s that received negative feedback on cleanliness. We had staff dedicated to cleaning and they worked hard, yet the customer service results still showed that too many customers felt the facility was not clean. As an organization, the 1,500 employees decided to all take ownership of the situation and connected tactics of cleanliness to our organizational values of teamwork and stewardship.
Here is what we did: We were immediately all on the environmental service team and were stewards of both the building and environment. If anyone saw any trash on the floor it was picked up.
We learned that scuff marks on the tile could be taken off with the wiggle of a foot. We even jokingly called it the “organizational shuffle.” A few months later our cleanliness results were some of the best in the nation. It wasn’t just picking up litter. It was about living the company values.
This has stuck with me to this day. I pick up litter both at work and wherever I am. We are stewards of our environment.
Most companies have values, but often in employee surveys the question “my company lives the values” is rated low. Here are some tips for companies to add some punch to its organizational values.
— Make the values are visible to all employees. This goes along with the company’s mission statement.
— If you are in a leadership position, hold up the mirror. You are always being watched. Are you demonstrating the values? An employee of an organization asked me what do you do if your boss was not living the values. I asked for more information. They shared that all employees were supposed to wear their name badge and to wear it near their left shoulder. Yet the top leader never wore their name badge. Why did the top leader not do what they said everyone else had to do? I suggested he bring this up to the leader. That would have been ideal, but the employee was uncomfortable bringing this up. I then saw the leader. I mentioned to him that an employee shared they felt he was not being consistent. “While I wish they would come to me, he is right and from now on I will wear my name badge,” the leader stated. I suggested he let everyone know this has come up, thank people for bringing it to his attention and to ask people if they notice other things to please bring them up.
— Connect to values on a regular basis. In written and verbal communication connect back to values. For example:
“Susan, I saw how even though you were busy, you took time to help your co-worker. This is a great example of living our value of teamwork.”
“Adam, I know getting the customer feedback you received was not pleasant, however I noticed you were not defensive and took positive action. You really role modeled our value of learning.”
Always add a sentence to what you write or say with a connection to values.
I will continue to talk about values in these columns because they seem to be more of an issue than ever before. Values are both taught and caught.