Tony Hsieh, CEO of online retailer Zappos.com, was in Toronto recently to talk up his new book, Delivering Happiness. The book, and Mr. Hsieh's talk, gave a lot of credit for the company's multimillion-dollar success to its use of core values.
For emerging businesses consumed with increasing revenue and staying a float, taking time out to define and articulate a set of core values might seem like a frivolous waste of time. Mr. Hsieh would argue otherwise.
Here are five things you need to know before embarking on a values creation exercise with your team:
1. Can you (as leader) walk your own talk?
There once was a company that had the "balance" printed on its business cards. The leaderwas a workaholic entrepreneur who came in at 6 a.m., and worked until 11 p.m. The VP's followed suit. The "balance" value looked great on a card, sounded great in recruiting pitches, but in reality it was nothing but a platitude to what the CEO thought he needed to say. If you can't role model the value you're espousing, don't even go there.
2. Keep it short.
Zappos.com has 10 values. My observation is that there are three or four that drive the business and the rest are window dressing. Once you've identified your three or four, rank them. Which one is most important? Which one will override the others? Values are like a compass that keeps your company pointed in the right direction. Done right, they should be a tool to help you, and your team, make better decisions when times get rough.
3. Get specific.
To have values that actually contribute to your bottom line you have to get specific about expectations. If you say "we value delivering excellent customer service," then what will that look like? What will your employees be saying and doing that will demonstrate to me, the customer, that I'm No. 1? This is really the foundation needed to make values have teeth. You cannot leave things up to interpretation and say "everyone knows what excellent customer service looks like." Wrong. Spell it out and then move on to the next point.
4. Start making them real.
This doesn't have to be rocket science. Once you have clearly articulated your organizational values, start building them into your existing team communication processes. Here are just a few ways to do it: make screening for values part of your interview process, build it into your performance review discussions, build it into your compensation and rewards programs, or dedicate 10 minutes of a staff meeting to asking your team to recognize peers for living the values. The key to making values live in your organization is to communicate, communicate, communicate. But the next point outlines the key to making them stick.
5. Follow through on consequences.
Solid organizational values create strong team alignment that can produce spectacular results. The whole system can be blown apart when people who don't live the values are tolerated. This becomes particularly tricky when the person in question is a high performer. Too often, organizations make excuses for people who crush values like "teamwork, respect, collaboration" because these individuals drive results. This is the piece that tests the mettle of leaders. Can you confront your top sales guy who's stomping all over that "respectful behaviour" value? And, to take it one step further, are you willing to drop the axe if the behaviours don't change? If you can't say yes to that question, don't embark on a values creating exercise. All you'll do is spend a lot of time creating "words on a wall" and frustrating and alienating team members who actually do want to embrace the values.
Organizational values can create powerful team alignment and assist in driving increased performance and profits. Or, they can be a source of frustration that creates distraction and moaning among your team, getting in the way of your goals and objectives. Values will live and die at the foot of the leader. The choice is yours.
Glain Roberts-McCabe is the founder and president of the Executive Roundtable. Her organization's values, in ranked order, are help others, get results, develop yourself, and make a difference. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.