Every crisis presents opportunities for innovation and new thinking. And while the world seems to be facing a fresh crisis every day, whether man made or by a force of nature, there is one crisis that presents an opportunity that every company should explore: the crisis of values. This is not a theological or political rant; there will be no commentary on America being greedy, self-obsessed, overweight, and overdrawn, or post-colonial England being looted and set on fire by soccer thugs and 12 year-olds, or the Greeks refusing to hike up their retirement age and expecting Germany to bail them out. This is not a critique of government leadership, foreign, fiscal, welfare, or educational policies, all of which require radical new thinking. Rather, this addresses one simple challenge to corporations and their leaders: examine your values and what you believe in, make them meaningful, then put them to work inside and outside of your company because you have a responsibility and a significant opportunity for the changes we are seeing in the world.
Have you defined what you believe in? Examine and define your values as a company so that they are meaningful, memorable, and support your purpose.
If a vision articulates the change a company hopes to make in the world, and the mission is how it plans to get there, values define the character of an organization, and they act as the principles that direct behavior during the journey. After paying the price for an explosive growth strategy, Starbucks lost its way and ended up in a serious crisis. One of the first things Howard Schultz did on his return as CEO was to re-examine the company's soul and its reason for being. He made sure the mission and the values were refreshed and bought back to life. When Bono spoke at an all-company meeting to announce the roll-out in New Orleans, he said, "Some people say, markets are not about morals, they are about profits. That's old thinking and false advice. Great companies will be the ones that find a way to have and hold on to their values while chasing their profits, and brand value will converge to create a new business model that unites commerce and compassion, the heart and the wallet." Today the company is refocused and refreshed, with its share price at an all-time high. Everything it does ladders back to its mission and is guided by living and meaningful values.
Engage your team by sharing the values with every department in the company to build ownership and engagement.
Like countries, companies with unclear values leave the engagement of their people to chance, whereas values-driven companies are organic and human communities that function with passion and focus. As individuals, we are what we believe in and companies are what their people believe in. Values that live on a wall in a conference room are often lengthy and forgettable, but shared values that are alive and authentic drive conviction, consistency, and clarity. Integrating values and a connection to human needs into a company's business model, and throughout each department, presents significant opportunities for innovation. Values connect and motivate people, and can super-charge teams with energy and commitment in tough times. They are the lifeblood of a culture, the buttons when pushed that brings a company to life. Do you know what are your company and brand values? Have you shared the values your company lives by?
Operationalize your values in every department to challenge them to develop action-based plans.
Having a clear set of values provides a common communications platform and a set of routines that help connect all departments and reduce ogranizational complexity. It gives people a basis for collaboration—a common vocabulary, a common language, a common set of principles for decision-making. While the world might be changing, values that remain constant provide a foundation for stability and growth. Values people care about inspire them to look for new problems to solve and to keep anticipating change. Have you shared your values with each department in the company that have to develop plans to bring them to life?
Develop simple methods to measure the impact of living values and find appropriate ways to celebrate them regularly.
We know that when people buy products they build emotional connections with brands. For brands to make connections they have to express meaningful values. Like the dynamics of a deep and lasting friendship, these connections are made stronger when common values are clear and present. Values are people-centered beliefs that connect people, groups inside of a company with different skills in different departments, and consumers outside with the brand. Shared values that are demonstrated in choices and behaviors from a company create opportunities to engage and inspire people inside and outside of the organization. Have you celebrated your values and the impact they have on the company's culture and its performance? If not, now is the time to start.
[Image: Flickr user kannanokannan]