I’ve toured many corporate offices, waiting rooms, and data centers with beautifully framed corporate values. Writing values such as “customer satisfaction” on the wall is easy. Living those values is hard. If your corporate values are to have a lasting impact on customers, they need to be embedded in the organization’s corporate culture. Here are some steps to help make your corporate values more than just decorations on the wall.
1. Start at the top
The company leaders who lead by example, with integrity and willingness to embody the company values are the cornerstone and hallmark for the rest of the company.
2. Include them in the hiring process.
During the interview process, be explicit in describing the company values to prospective employees. Tease out whether the candidate’s past or present behaviors support your corporate values. Listen closely to their answers and the feedback of your internal interview panel. Years ago, a company I worked for avoided a disastrous outcome by skipping a brilliant candidate who attempted to share confidential information from their current employer as a part of their interview portfolio.
3. Include corporate values in the new hire onboarding process
Many companies go out of their way to provide technical onboarding, process training, and tours of offices and facilities. How well does your company do with including values in the onboarding process? Does the onboarding process include more than a slide or picture of the values posted on the wall?
4. Acknowledge them in 1:1’s
Author and Leadership Coach Michael Nichols insists that coaches, managers, and anyone with direct reports include coaching and conversations on behaviors in one-on-one meetings. If these leaders are going to live the values, they have to talk about those values regularly, not just when things go wrong, or in an “All Hands” meeting slide once a year. In my first year as a team leader, my direct supervisor used team and corporate values as a way to coach me to help my team demonstrate respect, improve conflict resolution, and increase engagement.
5. Talk about values like you talk about other operational health metrics
Staff meetings are often filled with reports, charts, progress graphs, and company financials. Unfortunately, far too few of these meetings include discussions and measurements of corporate values. Develop metrics for measuring the health of the company with respect to values, and report on these metrics frequently. For example, if your company values “Teamwork” define what teamwork means in terms of expected employee behavior, and the key metrics that measure how each person, team, and department are doing. A critical success factor includes creating and maintaining a culture for people to report poor performance or negative results without retribution. For example, I know of a hospital that tracks metrics associated with their key value of “Safety First” on a public bulletin board, including days without injury or accident and shots administered without accidental needle sticks to attending nurses, doctors, or other staff. Nurses are encouraged to live the hospital value and report when issues arise.
6. Use survey feedback and assessments internally and externally
Customer and employee survey data and feedback, employee assessments, and peer reviews are another way of encouraging living, breathing values. As a manager, consider asking the direct reports: How are we doing with living out our values? Where are we at risk? What do we need to improve? As a company, include values-based questions in key survey initiatives with partners, customers, and external stakeholders who engage with the company. In my second year managing partner technical conversations, I was able to glean a great deal about our company’s adherence to values through feedback loops like these.
7. Socialize values externally and solicit help and feedback
Author and leader Carey Nieuwhof described how to build a great corporate culture. He referenced the importance of clearly articulating and communicating those values beyond the brain trust that commissioned the inspirational values posters. This means prominently featuring those values on corporate communications, websites, and social media. This means, agreeing to accept and respond to feedback from customers, partners, and others when you, your team, department or organization as a whole deviates from those values.
8. Look for actual embodiment
If your team, department, or company has explicit values that are more than a plaque on the wall, then you should be able to identify people on those teams, within those departments, and on your board and leadership team who embody those values. If respect is a value, for example, then there should be multiple people who demonstrate what respect looks like in action every day. If no one operates with respect towards one another, then respect isn’t a value. Corporate values need to wear clothes, have real names, and interact with customers.
9. Incorporate values into goals, objectives and strategies.
Recently I reread a number of articles about the Enron collapse. Striking in many of those articles was the way in which goals, objectives, strategies and tactics were often drafted, reviewed, approved, and subsequently rewarded without any connection to the company’s stated values. If your values are to become more than flashy statements, they have to be interwoven, managed, measured, and adhered to as your organization moves to achieve any goal, objective, or strategy.
10. Be vigilant – nurture values over time
Teamwork was a core value of one of my earlier teams. Each member of the team worked passionately together, shared information and best practices, met for lunches and the occasional dinners together, and relished the opportunity to generate team success. However, without careful attention and oversight, that team disintegrated into silos, information hoarding, and conflict. Any value that will live off the wall requires vigilance and determination.
When values are truly brought to life, the culture that results will produce untold benefits. Several of the most rewarding will translate to great customer experience. The value of living out your corporate values from the customer’s perspective include:
1. Consistent interactions
Years ago when my exercise equipment broke, I knew that there were only two customer support representatives at the equipment company that I wanted to deal with. Though that company’s values included respect, it was not lived consistently by everyone in the support department. Consequently my interactions were hit or miss, and each miss left me less likely to continue being a customer. When hiring, onboarding, one-on-ones, goals and socialization take place frequently, customers benefit from an organization that exudes respect, not a few individuals.
When values like respect, honesty, integrity, and hard work are core, lived and embodied values, customers gain an important measure of trust. Trust enables customers to believe the best about your company’s products, services and people when things go wrong, and to help build even better outcomes on top of what is going well.
3. Eliminate bad actors on both sides
Corporations that live their core corporate values also eliminate bad actors from both sides of the equation. How many times have we reflected what others projected onto us? How many times have you seen the law of attraction take place? Not the dating law, but the one in which you attract people with the same types of values as the ones you demonstrate. Companies that operate with integrity and respect, tend to engender respect and integrity in their customers.
Good corporate values also reduce missed expectations and frustration, and result in more customer success and delight. Imagine all the benefits that exist internally and externally when you not only have paintings for your values, but you also have people who live them, nurture them, and encourage them daily?