There is no rule that defines what every organization’s core values need to be, no right or wrong. Values represent the principles that an organization is going to follow to help them achieve their vision. Many companies use words like respect, collaboration, customer-centric, quality and team as their values. Others of a different type use words like hard-charging, aggressive, take-no-prisoners and competitive as theirs. Again there is no right or wrong.
But to achieve those values, a company must define the behaviors that support them. And then must insure that there is consistency in those behaviors’ definitions. The latter set described above sounds perfect for a competitive athlete or ex-military who have come from that type of culture. But the behaviors required still need to be defined and where the lines are drawn needs to be made clear. Clearly nobody would recommend actually killing or harming a competitor; or threatening a customer into purchasing more. Yet on the surface the values could be interpreted as consistent with such behaviors.
Values are often words on a plaque or in a strategic plan. But they are brought to life and ingrained in the culture through the behaviors that truly define them. And the organization will stand or fall based on how well the values and behaviors are enforced. Accountability cannot be selective- it must be uniform.
Values, behaviors, and accountability are a package in successful organizations. Are your values empty words or the real deal?
Within any organization, there are individual lessons being learned every day. Unfortunately, most of them are not captured and institutionalized. This is a problem because the same mistakes can be made over and over again at different places in a company, without any knowledge of the consequences that developed when others took those actions.
Remember how Lucy pulls the football out from under Charlie Brown time after time. He never learned and he kept making the same mistake and ending up on his back on the ground. Think about the Charlie Browns in your company- the ones who keep repeating the same behavior expecting a different outcome.
It is incumbent upon leadership to encourage knowledge management so that there are reference points to look to so that positive actions can be repeated and negative actions avoided the next time around. Institutional memory can be short- knowledge management and sharing makes up for that.
The costs of cultural ambiguity, or worse, conflict, are significant. Data shows a huge negative impact on productivity, stress levels, safety, health and profitability.
Health care expenditures at high-pressure companies are nearly 50% greater than at other organizations.
Source: American Psychological Association
What many leaders have written off as “the soft stuff” as opposed to focusing on balance sheets and profit and loss statements, is really the silent killer. Are you, as a leader, in touch with what is really driving the direction of your organization? Are you leading a company without being aware of cultural issues or are you leading the charge to greatness by focusing on what matters most to the health and integrity of your company and your employees?
Are you, as an employee, feeling the joy of working in a great culture or the pain of working in a high pressure, high stress environment? If the latter, is it worth it? What is it doing to your health?
Time to WAKE UP!!
Labor Day weekend seems to be a yearly turning point for many businesses. It is a time to shake off the business doldrums brought on by summer’s beautiful weather and the siren call of the beach and the mountains. It is a “get serious” moment as it signifies the push through the last few months of the year. Many leaders need to have a highly successful post- Labor Day to have a good year. There is a desire for renewed energy as everyone realizes they need a little bit of extra effort to hit their numbers.
This return to normalcy could be viewed in both a positive or negative light. On the positive side, leaders have recognized that their troops need some time to re-charge their batteries. They have planned out their year so the summer is lower key but still productive. They have carefully put things in place during the summer to enable their employees to successfully ramp up after the holiday. Most businesses have ebbs and flows in their calendars and utilizing them to be productive is critical. Taking inventory, cleaning or re-configuring warehouses, doing strategic planning, holding company outings- all can take place when things are a bit slower. Leaders shouldn’t waste this time. They should use it to go into the fall months with momentum. So summer is part of the yearly plan to achieve certain objectives.
On the other hand, if the summer months have been treated as down time for the company as a whole, without thought or planning, it is awful hard to start September with all cylinders firing. Just as you never see a pitcher going into a game without warming up or an orchestra start a concert without tuning up for fear of disastrous results, business leaders need to recognize that a warmup is important. Failure to do a re-set on the year’s goals and objectives could leave employees without sufficient focus. It could be like returning from a long trip in a very different time zone. Folks are a bit disoriented and not quite with it. The time it takes to get up to speed is lost time for a company, time that cannot be recovered. Those who believe that things can get back to normal automatically after being in first gear for a couple of months are fooling themselves.
Summer can be viewed as an attitude. Leaders can make it a positive one by allowing employees the time they need to get away from work, pursue their interests and enjoy their families so they bring energy to their work when they return. But there also has to be an ongoing sense of purpose and business as usual which is part of that. And those returning from vacation need to be brought back into any new initiatives or processes quickly so they can be motivated and engaged.
The fall is usually a busy time in business, but there are obstacles. Think about the next big time challenge- Thanksgiving to the end of the year. For retailers (including e-retailers) it is make or break and there is no thought of slacking off. Their teams need to be ready and excited for that. For many businesses there is a belief that nobody is available to do business during that period so they think of it as a slow time. Many think their deadlines are “soft” rather than “hard”, assuming the customers or clients are taking it a bit easy. That is an old wives’ tale. Make sure that business goes on, calls are made, meetings are held and commitments are kept. At the very least you will be setting up the first quarter of next year. The more excuses you make, the more you will find, and soon you will be in full swing only half of the year. Picture what that could do to your numbers.
Businesses cannot afford to ignore the opportunities that exist in their perceived slow times. There is always much to do, even if key people go on vacation. The work of the organization should not stop. We always complain there is never enough time. There would be more if people used what is there more effectively. Company core values and the behaviors that support them need to be followed year round.
On another note, there was a story in a recent Wall Street Journal article that had a headline that started with “Wouldn’t it be nice…” It led me to think of a few things that fall into that category.
Wouldn’t it be nice if:
I know there are a lot more. Any suggestions?
I took a tennis lesson this spring in anticipation of beginning to play again after several years of recovering from various injuries. The lesson was terrific because as I hit with two pros, one commented on my technique while the other hit me lots of balls exactly where they needed to be hit. As I got coached I found my strokes and my footwork beginning to return and I felt a glimmer of muscle memory from my “good old days.”
There may have been a time when much of what I was being coached to do was second nature, requiring no thought on my part, just instinct. That time is no more. I have played a number of times this summer and have not been able to duplicate everything I was coached on that magical first day. Things are okay, good enough to enjoy playing, but nowhere near where they could be with really working on my game.
This can happen in business just as easily. Our initial focus on the details and desire to do everything right can, over time, can move from conscious effort to non-conscious habit. And then certain details may erode, some corners may get cut, some laxness may occur- and we don’t notice- at least right away. Then at some point we realize we are not as sharp as we once were and we can’t find our way back to where we were.
It may take an external, objective review to find the glitches and to see where shortcuts have been institutionalized. It may need to be pointed out in more than one way until the owner actually realizes what has changed. When it comes to sports coaching, it is easy to have shortcomings pointed out on video. This option is normally not available in business. Yet if leaders want to “get the edge” back, they have to find a means of understanding where subtle changes and letdowns have occurred. And those working with them need to find a way to help leaders understand and get back to where they were.
The point here is that a leader or an athlete can do ninety or ninety five percent right, but it is that last missing amount that is the difference between okay and good, or good and very good. And that does make a difference. There is safety and maybe even comfort in being part of the pack, motoring along with everyone else, justifying not finding that extra percentage to pull ahead.
Some, however, want to be ahead of the pack. They want to be the change, not have to react to the change. They want to find that extra percentage. Those are the ones that seek the external voice to provide a different perspective.
So, the questions are –Are you happy with where things are in your business? Do you feel that you are hitting on all cylinders? Do you feel that you have a real grasp on your culture; your employees’ level of engagement in their work; the loyalty of your customers or clients; the levels of communication, information flow and understanding throughout your business; and the effectiveness of the decision making throughout the organization? If you think you can answer yes to all of those questions, let me ask one more. Are you answering based on “muscle memory”, what you remember from the good old days? Or are you really, truly in touch with where things stand right this minute? Think before you answer.
We all need to work on the finer points of whatever game we play or business we run. Being great five years ago means nothing. What is important is what we know right now and what we are doing with that knowledge. Talking about being great and working to attain greatness are two different things. Which are you doing?