Like it or not, your employees are ambassadors for your organization’s brand and core corporate values. If you are in a leadership role, do you find this a scary or comforting thought? Think about how many interactions a person in your organization has on any given day with suppliers, customers, clients, patients, community organizations or the public in general. Then multiply this number by the number of people who work in your organization. The total external interactions each day could be 50,000-100,000 or more, depending on the nature of your business and with our increasing reliance on social media channels.
Values are a key part of corporate culture. Are the values you espouse firmly embedded in your employee’s minds? If I were to ask 10 different people within your organization what a given value means to them, would I get 10 different interpretations, or pretty consistent responses?
Of course, it’s not just an intellectual understanding of an organization’s core values that matters, but rather each employee’s visceral, emotional connection to what they look like in every day terms that makes the difference. A good test is what happens to the values when things get tough–do those values get thrown out the window at the first sign of difficulty? How do people respond when they receive bad news, or are under intense pressure, during challenging negotiations or in working with difficult customers? As ambassadors, your employees’ ability to stick to those core values through thick and thin is critical.
You may be thinking “our organization doesn’t have any stated values” and while it may be true that they are not officially stated, I will guarantee they already exist. The acid test for an organization’s values is the answer to the following question: “who gets promoted around here (and why)”? (By the way, this is a great question to ask in your next job interview). What do recent promotions tell you about your organization’s values (and culture)? Promotions set the tone for the behaviors to be emulated.
So how do you instill core values so that everyone can be an ambassador? Here are a few recommendations:
● Never stop talking about the core values and their importance. You can argue that talk is just talk, but continual reminders about what is valued and why will have an impact over time—the values will sink into the collective psyche and affect how people behave.
● Describe the values through stories. Nothing is more powerful than a story of how a value is lived and what it means through life examples. Stories make it easier to remember the meaning of the values.
● Reinforce the living of the values. This recommendation relates back to the promotion question above. To reinforce a value, it must be recognized and rewarded appropriately. Let people know how much you appreciate their making a choice to stick to a value even in difficult circumstances.
● Take decisive action with those not living the values. This may be the most difficult thing to do on this list. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen organizations tolerate someone’s behavior that is in direct contradiction of the stated values because they “get results”. Allowing this situation to linger sends a very mixed message about what really is valued and quickly ruins leadership credibility.
There was a great article in the Denver Post recently about SendGrid, a transactional email service based in Denver that has grown rapidly over the past eight years (see Culture Keys Success by Tamara Chuang, Denver Post, February 12, 2017). SendGrid has established a strong positive culture, and values are a key part of that culture. They have four values (all starting with “h”: Honest, Hungry, Humble and Happy). SendGrid’s CEO, Sameer Dholakia, shared the following advice about values:
● Keep the values simple so employees will remember them
● Make them distinctive to attract people who support them
● Not everyone will or should fit (with the values)
● Be conscious of behaviors that impact the values and reinforce them
Excellent advice. Sameer goes on to say that we must be OK with knowing that some people will not fit with our values. My advice is to find people who are a good fit and do your best to hang on to them! Organizations work incredibly hard at establishing a strong brand and reputation – make sure your people reinforce those messages by being great ambassadors.