We’ve been talking a lot lately about technology trends. They’re exciting and they have a gigantic impact on the way we do business. This week, though, I want to talk about something that is just as important: having your company’s core values show up in the day to day operations of your business.
Core values are crucial for a lot of reasons. They communicate what is important in your business, inspire people into action, and influence who is hired to be a part of your team. That said, while they sound pretty, having them show up in the reality of your business is not as simple as sticking a few posters on the wall. It takes strength, honesty, and an intentional strategy.
This week, I focus on what CEOs on our show have shared about the ways they take those great ideals about core values and bring them to life in their company culture. I want to offer insights about how you can; (1) understand the gap between your ideals and reality (2) take concrete steps to close the gap.
By being aware of the real-world status of your cultural commitments, and putting practices in place to have them manifest, you’ll build a culture machine that will reinforce your values in every part of your business. It doesn’t happen on it’s own, though. It takes concerted effort and investment.
The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions
Core values aren’t about what you wish were happening. Wishes and visions aren’t a terrible place to start – but, they are far from the finish line. Enron is my favorite example of core values gone awry. Earlier this year, I had Dave Walens on the show. Walens is the CEO of Exploring, Inc., a consortium of companies that create experiences for people at trade shows and big events.
Walens observed that while he has spent a lot of time developing core values, they didn’t seem to be taking root in the company. One of his commitments was an open door policy, and to be available for feedback from any level. While he announced this to his team, he noticed that no one was taking advantage of it. He chose to hire a COO, Matt Kelly, to work on making good on this promise. Under Kelly’s direction, Walens began making regular rounds of the office. This took his open door policy and brought it out on the floor. Employees saw that Walens was actively seeking their feedback, and they began to offer it.
Walens was brave enough to see that his ideas weren’t taking form, and he took active steps to change that.
Seek the Truth
In this case, the measurement was the awareness that employees were not taking advantage of his offer of availability, but there are more in-depth ways to check on the effectiveness of your policies. Be willing to take them.
Many of you CEOs love your data, and this is another chance to compile some. Woohoo! It’s great to sit back and have an honest conversation with yourself, but it’s even more important to survey your team. Culture is an ephemeral concept, so it’s important to bring objectivity. It might be once a quarter, or once a month, but reach out for regular input from your team on how the values are showing up in real time. This is distinct from your employee satisfaction survey, although you may be able to combine them for ease of gathering the data.
Use this data as a basis to plan new initiatives, and measure the value of past and current initiatives.
5 Tools for Filling the Gap:
Model the behavior. It’s simple and effective (and cheap!). Culture is very much a conversation. It’s very much, monkey see, monkey do. Walens wanted his employees to feel free to come to him, and he modeled that by reaching out to them. Another CEO I’ve had on the show, Greg Vaughn, holds transparency as a value for his company. He holds regular all hands meetings in which he actually shares the financial data on the firm. If you espouse transparency, be transparent.
Vaughn was so successful at modeling the values he espoused, that when he was having a tough time personally, his employees noticed the shift, approached him, and helped guide him back to his commitments. Culture is, again, a conversation, and if you’ve gotten your team to buy-in, they will be diligent about holding you (and others) accountable, especially if you’ve given them permission.
Throw money at the problem. Keeping a healthy culture is worth the investment. This includes compensation, benefits, programs, and incentives. For Walens, it meant bringing in someone specifically equipped to focus on core values.
If health is a core value, you should invest in making that a reality. Put in a gym, or give away gym memberships. Have programs and incentives that encourage people to quit smoking or lose weight. If adventure is a core value of your company, plan and fund team getaways to fly hot air balloons or kite surf. Be creative. Have fun.
Train your team. In my experience, this is more common for large, enterprise-sized companies to put the time and energy (and money) into training their team in core values, but it’s worth keeping on your tools list. This is especially the case if your company has gone through a lot of fast growth, or when you find that the reality of your company is far from the mark set by your core values. Training can help your team get aligned on what your values mean for your company, and can incorporate discussions on the best ways to continue to implement the values.
That said, this is one of my least favorite ways to implement culture. It’s expensive and is only successful about half the time, according to Harvard Business Review. If you do go this route, make sure you use it as part of a strategy for change, not the whole enchilada.
Utilize internal marcomm. In large corporations there are whole departments committed to dealing with internal culture and communications. You might not have a whole team, but make it someone’s job to create and implement a strategy for internal communications. It might start with a newsletter, social media sites, telling the story each month of an employee and how they exhibit company values, or just holding weekly meetings. The idea is to broadcast your values in a variety of formats, and reward employees who are operating inside them. Broadcast the culture conversation.
You can also combine this with the “throw money at the problem” step and bring in an outside expert, such as Gapingvoid. They call themselves a “cultural design firm” and focus on creating internal marketing campaigns and internal communications plans that support cultural development.
Immerse your team in the desired culture. Just like immersing yourself in a language you are trying to learn, immersing your team in your intended culture can fast-track the development of that culture in your company. Gapingvoid includes this as one of their methodologies. The help clients go far beyond talking about the values, and create an immersive environment that creates an emotional reaction in your team.
It may incorporate displays, presentations, videos, stories – as well as the other four methodologies mentioned. It means having a multifaceted plan, and it’s about having the value – integrity, trust, transparency – show up almost as a physical presence in your work space. Human beings are experiential creatures, so having the experience of transparency (like Vaughn’s regular all-hands meetings) is much more powerful than just hearing about it.
Now, Ask Yourself the Hard Questions:
In closing, I’m going to leave you with a few questions to ask yourself that will help you build your company’s culture machine:
1. What are your company’s core values? That’s a soft ball, I know.
2. How well does your company culture reflect those values?
3. Do you have data on the answer to this question? What you think (or hope) may not actually be the truth.
4. What have you learned from the data and feedback you have gathered?
5. How well are you modeling these values on a day-to-day basis in your interactions? What about your leadership team?
6. How are you supporting your leadership in demonstrating your values to the rest of your workforce?
7. Which of the 5 tools could you implement to fill potential gaps?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. The key is to be honest, and to take the time to build your culture machine intentionally, one step at a time.