[IMGCAP(1)]In my experience terms like ‘core values’, ‘mission’ and ‘vision’ can be taken for granted. They can be words that were once shared among a group of leaders at an organization, they could be terms that were debated on and produced with great thought, or they may be expressions that are not documented but are unspoken rules that are seen in an organizations culture. What would you say your organization's aptitude is for not only documenting but living within the guidelines of what core values, mission and vision are supposed to give a business?
In this three part series I will discuss about how to incorporate these back into your firm to gain control over business direction and leadership in your establishment’s future.
As most of the organizations in our industry have been in business for a while, and because there have been a considerable amount of mergers and acquisitions the idea behind Core Values have become a muffled representation of what a company used to stand for.
In Jim Collins’s book Built to Last, he talks about the importance of these common ideas and themes in a business’s frameworks so that they can be referred back to when leadership questions become tough. But as our industry has evolved we have not done well to take what may have once been put on paper and deliver it to the new members of our teams and the younger generations that we are trying to attract.
Core values are a recruiting tool but only if they are within the heart of your organization. So how do you create that culture that breaths common truths and beats all to a particular drum?
It may feel a little like starting back at the beginning when you are already in the middle of a journey, but the conversation around the morals, principles and standards of your business teams can help propel any corporation to the next level, even if you are already well established and even if you are already leading your industry and if you are growing, there is always time to have this conversation.
I start by recommending that you first work on core values because they are the corner stone and will lead you into other dialogue around your mission and vision. Begin this process with a brainstorming session on what everyone believes the core values should be in the company. You can do this with your management team or open this up to all employees in the organization. The benefit of including all employees is that you will quickly understand what culture you have created. This can sometimes be a shock as it could be the opposite of your intention – but regardless it is better to have a clear understanding of where your team members think you are in this process so that you can begin a reeducation process if needed.
In a brainstorming session like this, there shouldn’t be any discussion at all – just writing down every idea that employees throw out. This way the flow doesn’t get stifled and it doesn’t kill the brainstorming process. Once you have a pretty good list of items, start combining the ones that are similar by placing them into categories.
Once the categories are defined you need to narrow them down. You can do this by a simple voting process based on how many values you would like the company to have. For example, if you would like to have five core values, you can give each person five votes to spend. They can spend these votes all on one item, or split up their five votes on five different items. During this process each person gets up and places their votes next to their items. This works well in teams that have a high level of trust, and don’t mind sharing in front of each other. If your team is a little shyer, after you brainstorm and categorize your items you may choose to have them anonymously vote, or send e-mails to you with their vote.
After you are done with this process, you should have your top core alues, but the process is not quite complete yet. If you were in a room with 20 or more people and you asked each person to write down as many words as they could in thirty seconds to describe the word sincere, you most likely would not have anyone come up with the same words to describe that word; the same goes for your core values. Your team must agree on what these values mean, and it should be explicit so that interpretation cannot be made. Descriptions of how someone could uphold a value are also needed.
By defining your core values, you give your team the tools necessary to get it right every day on the job. This will also give you the mechanism to be able to reward your employees when they are exhibiting those core values. Some companies do this by sending out stories about how employees have used core values in the workplace or with customers. Other companies hold regular meetings and have employees share with each other ways they have worked to uphold the values and discuss ways to do this in the future.
If you only deliver the values, and don’t put structure around how those values are to be delivered every day and you don’t bring it up often, you will be right back where you started. This isn’t the purpose of values. It isn’t a check-box that you complete and then mark off of your list. These ideals must become the morals that everyone lives by. You will know they are working in your organization when your people start making decisions based on the values you have outlined.
The ultimate goal: everyone knows what your core values are not because they are written down, but because they can see them every day.
Apryl Hanson is a director of customer and partner strategy at Sage + NetSuite partner Blytheco LLC. She is a leadership executive focused on delivering customer and partner strategic initiatives to improve profitability and has responsibly over the customer facing sales teams as well as the firm’s marketing initiatives and plans. Apryl is also a customer loyalty enthusiast and is currently working on a book with colleague Alicia Anderson on women’s strengths in the work place.
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