When we work with companies to assist them to identify their core business values, we explain that simply identifying and documenting their values is not enough. Unfortunately, a single word, short phrase, or even a single sentence is not usually adequate to fully explain what is meant by a core value. That is because many words can be a bit ambiguous and may be interpreted by different individuals to mean different things resulting in inconsistencies in internal behavior.
After values are identified, the next step is to define them more fully with a brief paragraph or two. We refer to this document as an operational philosophy and our clients sometimes create their own name like The Way We Serve.
Diving deeper to the next layer, your company’s values are then adopted and assimilated by different groups of employees. This is important because how an accountant will relate to a value like customer service is very different from a front line employee that interacts with clients on a daily basis. At first glance, someone in a support role may believe that customer service is an irrelevant value. Next, they may realize that their customer is an internal customer or another employee. After still more reflection comes the realization that by supporting the front-line employees in a way that simplifies that employee’s job is how they are best able to provide customer service.
As I was reading the book Z.B.A. by Marc Lesser, I came across a description of how he instructed his purchasing agent to operate. I am quoting this section below because it illustrates beautifully how this final level of values assimilation works.
“The other day I relayed to my purchasing manager the phrase that best described how I wanted her to perform in her role: ‘compassionate bulldog.’ When getting pricing from vendors and when sourcing for new products, it is important to be tenacious, to not take no for an answer, to always be digging deeper for more information, more options, and better pricing. When you run into obstacles, you need to keep going, to find new solutions, to find better prices and better ways of doing things. At the same time, it is important to take good care of people in the process. In fact, getting answers and getting good prices depend on forming good relationships with people, not by putting them off or being confrontational.” p.191
While the author did not share in his book the core business values for his business, it is highly likely that they include the idea of tenacity, creating strong relationships, or both. The paragraph above is an elegant and useful explanation of how these values impact the purchasing department.
What are you company’s core business values? Do your staff members know exactly what type of behavior they are expected to exhibit to be in alignment with these values?
If you answered yes to the second question, congratulations! If you answered I don’t know or simply no to either question above, when can you schedule time to identify and clarify your company’s values? While it may seem to be one of those soft and squishy topics where it is hard to quantify a return on investment, I guarantee that your return will be remarkable. Just re-read the paragraph of a ‘compassionate bulldog’ and think about the impact that amount of clarity had for Mr. Lesser’s business. Don’t you want that for your company?