As a business owner and leader, I find it strange how many company leaders have not taken the time to clearly define the values their companies will live by. Perhaps it is not seen as a priority. Or maybe companies either don’t understand or don’t desire to manage their company via their values. You live your values daily in your personal life by the choices you make: stores you visit, products you use, and interactions you have with others. This same logic can be applied to a business intentionally — rather than happening accidentally.
One major difference between a company’s treatment of its values and an individual’s personal values is how they are communicated. An individual doesn’t have to deal with multiple departments, or conflicting management theories, or politics. Communication of values is a huge challenge for today’s organizations. However, an individual’s values can be similar to a company’s — they can be just as vague or even conflicted when not clearly thought out.
I refer to the process of defining and clarifying organizational values as a "Values Blueprint," a registered trademark of my company, People Ink. This process is not just a “here’s-what-we-value” mission statement but represents how leaders and employees will behave and what these values will look like on a daily basis. From an internal point of view, employees see the behavior of leaders as validation — or a lack thereof — of values. You’ve heard this before, “People don’t listen to you speak: They watch your feet.” Customers see values by the service they receive and the outward transparency of the company.
One of the benefits of a Values Blueprint that is being demonstrated by leaders and communicated throughout the company is a common understanding or culture of how things are done. This often is an attraction to employees and customers with similar values. Employees want to work for a company they trust and feel mirrors their own values.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” — Peter Drucker
A Values Blueprint can also be a way to differentiate your company from the competition. Do you want to be known for being fun, creative or high tech? Then include behavioral statements to define your values like CEO Tony Hsieh did for Zappos. One of Zappos’ defined values was “Create fun and a little weirdness.” Examples of great companies with clearly lived values would be Google, Zappos and JetBlue Airways. JetBlue recently won its eighth consecutive J.D. Powers award for customer service.
When values are properly defined, they permeate all systems within a company, which makes it easier to hire to them, reward and recognize people for them, and even fire for not living them. I have found that company leaders are the ones who drive the values within a company, so if leaders are not committed to living them a values leadership initiative is not likely to succeed. Leaders who drive values through example and communication influence behavior, which then builds a company’s culture and ultimately determines performance.
If there is an autopilot management system, it must include communication of values.
Ann Rhoades was influential in building the well-known business cultures of Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways and is a frequent speaker for the Washington Speakers Bureau. Her website is peopleink.com. Her best-selling book "Built on Values."