I originally published today’s post on Forbes. It appeared on their site on November 18, 2019. I’ve made some additions and edits since writing the original, so this is a slightly modified version of that post.
Whether your business is large medium, or small, when it comes to developing a customer-centric organization, the soul of that transformation journey really is your corporate culture. Without the right culture in place, a culture that has been deliberately designed to be customer-centric, your efforts to design and deliver a great experience for employees and for customers will sputter and falter.
I like Bob Chapman’s definition of culture, which he shares in his book, Everybody Matters: culture = values + behavior. I also like Herb Kelleher’s definition: Culture is what people do when no one is looking. Two visionary CEOs, two culture definitions that are closely related. You see, what people do when no one is looking is defined by the core values and the defined behaviors that align with the values.
In order for either of those definitions to materialize into reality, core values, which are the foundation of the culture, must be defined, socialized, and operationalized. How does that happen?
1. Define Behaviors
Take some time to identify the desired behaviors associated with each core value. Involve a select group of employees, i.e., perhaps your culture committee. Provide context around each value. What are examples of behaviors that are in line with the intent of the value? What behaviors would make any employee proud to work for your company? What behaviors are aligned with the culture you are designing? You can also identify behaviors that don’t align with each value, just to shed light and provide clarity on right and wrong. Defining the behaviors allows employees and executives to then translate the values into how they will do business, serve customers, and serve each other.
2. Define Outcomes
For each value + behavior, define the associated desired outcomes, including outcomes of operationalizing the value versus what happens if employees don’t align with the value. Having behaviors and outcomes front and center provides employees with a clear picture of why each value is important to the organization. It also allows them to align – or not (in which case, they may self-select out).
3. Communicate the Values
This is one of the most critical steps to designing the culture you desire. You can’t just define values and behaviors, post them on a wall, and wait for them to happen. You’ve got to communicate them. You’ve got to socialize them. There are a variety of ways you can do this, including:
- Starting with the hiring process. Talk about the core values during employee interviews. Outline a scenario and ask them to provide examples of how they would address the scenario, through living the core values. Ask them about their personal core values. Ask them questions to identify if they align with the company’s core values.
- For candidates that “pass the test,” have them sign a statement of your core values, acknowledging that they know and understand what the values are, what they mean, and what the associated behaviors are. (By the way, I’ve just implied here that you are hiring based on the core values, another way to socialize and operationalize the values!)
- During orientation, be sure to set aside time to talk about the core values and what they mean to the business. Talk about the employee experience and the customer experience, too. These should already be baked into your core values, too, in some way, shape, or form.
- Don’t make orientation the last time you talk to employees about the core values and what they mean to them and to the business. I like annual refreshers around “core value training,” in addition to some of the other things I’m talking about here. That annual refresher should become obsolete if you’re doing everything else I mention.
- Focus on a core value per month. Select a core value, and dedicate the month to talking about what it means, sharing stories about employees who’ve lived the core value, providing examples to employees, setting up rewards and recognition for those who do live and breathe that value, using peer recognition to allow colleagues to call out co-workers who exemplify that core value, having a lunch-n-learn dedicated to all things about that value, bringing in a speaker to highlight the importance of the value and to talk about ways that it’s impacted her life, asking employees to write what that value means to them and posting those notes on a “values wall,” etc.
- Name conference rooms, floors, hallways, restrooms, break rooms, etc. after the values, which keeps the values front and center every day.
- Talk about the values in all meetings. Share stories that reflect on and represent ways that values have been operationalized, whether they are about how employees helped each other or how they interacted with customers.
4. Model the Values
One of the most important ways to get employees to adopt the behaviors associated with the core values is for executives to lead by example and model the behaviors, too. Employees are always watching what executives are doing: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If executives place themselves “above the law,” why should employees obey the law? If the CEO doesn’t demonstrate commitment to the core values and become an example for employees, adoption will fail.
5. Reinforce the Values
Reinforcing the values is probably the most important component of operationalizing them. There are many ways to do this, including with incentives and rewards and recognition. A couple other ways to reinforce the values include:
- Hiring for culture fit, which I mentioned above.
- Firing for culture fit: Zappos and Amazon are great examples of this, offering employees who don’t believe they fit the culture monetary compensation to leave the organization. Similarly, when employees display behaviors not in line with the core values, those must become terminatable offenses.
- Preparing performance evaluations, developing coaching sessions around, and determining promotions based on a clear display of living and breathing the company’s core values.
- Developing processes and policies and making decisions with the values in mind. Are they in line with your core values?
I’ve just spent a bit of time talking about socializing and operationalizing your core values to develop the culture you desire. One key point to keep in mind – if your target is a customer-centric culture, the values and behaviors must include clear direction and connection to customers and the customer experience.
If you compromise your core values, you go nowhere. -Roy T. Bennett