Ann Rhoades is the founder of Peopleink, an Albuquerque, New Mexico, company which focuses on helping companies create cultures that are long lasting. You can read the highlights of her talk in the newsletter.
As I stated in that newsletter I am big on core values, always urging my members to hire, promote and fire to their company’s core values.
So what do you do if you haven’t established core values in your company or feel like your company culture has strayed from your original intention?
A good exercise is to get your management team together for the purpose of defining your company’s core values. If you are a small company, say 15 employees or less, you may want to have everyone participate. You do want a good representation so if your management team is small then invite others so you have ten or so in the room. And don’t just settle for inviting long-term employees. Often times your newer employees can give you a better idea of what they are experiencing as acceptable behavior and some of it may make you grimace.
Brainstorm key words and phrases with everyone participating. Record them on an easel pad or whiteboard. Combine those that represent the same value. Then let everyone vote. In my meetings when I am looking for what members would prefer to do I give them each a certain number of sticky dots (you can buy these at any office supply store) and have them place them by their topic of choice. They cannot put more than one dot on any one topic. In this case give them 4-6 dots since you are trying to narrow your key core values to no more than six. The result will be what the majority feel are the most important core values of the company.
Next take each of these core values and one at a time talk about specific behaviors in the company that might represent a demonstration of this core value. For example, if one of your core values is Customer Service, an example of a behavior might be returning a customer’s phone call within one hour. I would suggest breaking the participants into groups of three or four. Small groups allow for a lot more participation because the quiet ones are more able to be heard. Have each group brainstorm a list of 3-5 examples of each core value. Then come back together and decide on which behaviors you will use. Now you have exact behaviors that everyone can associate with that are specific to your company.
This exercise is of no use unless you roll it out to the entire company. Hold a company meeting. Have posters made and spread them around the office. Don’t be afraid to repeat them at every opportunity. When you see someone demonstrating one of your core values acknowledge them publicly. Many companies have spot bonuses and hand the employee a $10 – $20 gift card. Immediate rewards are very powerful, especially when the act is being observed by other employees. Put your core values on your website, business cards, invoices, fax cover sheets, and emails. Whenever you have a chance to mention them do so.
What are the risks if you do not have defined core values? Well, there is a saying that a company is a shadow of its leader. Whether you like it or not your people are watching you. Your behavior sets the bar for what is acceptable in your company. If you don’t approve of certain behaviors ask yourself…which of my behaviors might indicate that this is okay behavior?
Culture is intentional. You either create what you want or it will evolve as to what people can get away with. Your choice.