Your organization is comprised of people who make decisions every day. If there are no guiding principles, then you will likely have anarchy and self-interest as the guidelines for how people do their jobs and how they treat others. This is not a good long-term strategy for any type of organization. In difficult situations, how do you know if your staff members are making the "right" decision every time?
The answer lies in your values. At the core, what your staff believe you stand for is what will likely guide their actions as employees. Consequently, your actions must support your values, and vice versa. While this is obvious, you must confirm your values to ensure consistency in every stakeholder interaction.
You may also be asking why this concept of values is being discussed in a column on marketing. Your product, one of the 4 Ps of marketing, includes the physical product or service you sell to your customers. Understanding why values are so important to your company is because your company is not a living thing. The choices employees make about suppliers, business processes, community causes, and how employees treat colleagues are all part of your "product," that you are trying to encourage people to purchase from you. Every organization wants to believe it offers a wonderful product.
Your image includes how you talk to your stakeholders in your corporate communications, advertising messages, and how you respond in a crisis situation. Even though these communications are the "promotion" element of the 4Ps of marketing, what you say and how you say it will directly affect your current and potential customers’ view and trust of your organization as a business and member of the community.
In this age of immediate messaging and opinions via Twitter and other platforms, you must be acutely aware of the values you are presenting. Values are what you stand for. Taken one step further, it is what you truly believe in that guides your employees’ daily decisions.
Values are not simply environmental or social positions or charities that you may support. While these are noble causes, there are many more basic elements of serving your customers that are even more important. These values may be things that you stand against just as much as what you stand for.
Here are three ways that you can confirm and align your values. First, ask your staff what words describe the soul and DNA of your organization. One tool you can use is to have employees complete the sentence, "We believe…"
If you have a trusting work environment, your employees will be able to describe those fundamental truths about your organization. The collective views of your staff should be compiled and analyzed to ensure they match your values and actions. Are there common themes that reinforce the overall values that are the most prominent?
Second, ask your customers and supplier partners what they see as your values. Have you established an ethic of fairness in your dealings when people buy from you and when you buy your supplies from someone else? Believe in the good of people acting on behalf of an organization and treat them with respect, and you will end up with a solid relationship. Your values are on display in all these interactions.
Finally, you need to articulate your main values in a way that truly describes the foundation of your organization. Please do not use generic terms like "customer service" or "we are the best" because in very few cases is this a true statement. Be as specific as you can. Share these with your entire staff and make sure they know that this exercise will be used to guide daily activities for everyone in the organization.
The values you create will build the culture. Pool tables and free espresso do not create a values-based culture. Your major stakeholders will provide the insights that you can use to confirm the values that matter to everyone. And with strong values your organization now has the foundation for excellent marketing.
Tim’s bits: Your values are the markers against which all your decisions should be made. Southwest Airlines has more unionized employees than any other major airline. Their values are contained in two categories – Live the Southwest Way and Work the Southwest Way. A theme in the values is "team late." Because Southwest prides itself with on-time departures, if a plane arrives late, every member of Southwest’s team at that plane’s gate automatically jumps into action to ensure the plane will get prepped quickly to make up the delay and leave on time.
The employees do this immediately without any managerial direction. This is a clear example of how your values guide your actions. To find out where your organization stands, you might consider pressure-testing your organization with a real-life scenario to find out if your team proactively responds to resolve the situation.
Tim Kist, CMC, a certified management consultant by law, works with organizations to improve their overall performance by being truly customer-focused.
Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.