The leaders of companies have to successfully navigate a minefield of risks. Financial risks, legal risks and reputation risks just to name a few. Your most front-facing employees, your customer service personnel can help shield you from risk, but you have to arm them for the task.
Company Core Values: Company values are not a politically correct luxury. Their purpose should be to serve as the guide that all of your employees use to determine the right course of action when they are representing your company. You can’t be everywhere at once and you cannot possibly create a policy, rule or script for every situation they will encounter. Some of those situations could make or break your entire company.
Keep It Real: Company core values should not be a list of things you aspire to. The bottom line is that they should catalog the criteria you have actually used to made good decisions in the past. I also found it helpful to ask myself the following questions:
- What employees have you liked, but fired anyway? What were the “deal-breakers?”
- What employees have you not been particularly fond of, but were so valuable that you chose to keep them with the company? What were they contributing?
Those questions helped me come up with what I really value. Those are the same values I want my employees to use when they are making critical decisions.
Be Simple and Clear: If it is not easy for your employees to be able to quote your values word for word, you have too many and they are too complicated. If they can’t remember them, how can they possibly act on them? Here are some examples of my own company values:
Focus on results.
How: I am willing to go the extra mile to get the best outcome.
Why: Our company can only exist if we are providing real value.
Show people you care.
How: I project a patient and caring attitude.
Why: We are in the business of customer service.
Maintain open and honest communications.
How: I give and receive honest feedback.
Why: We need accurate information to steer our company successfully.
None of our value statements are more than five words long and I underline the most important word. I also include one sentence that illustrates the behavior that exemplifies each value and one sentence about why it is important for the company. I want my employees to truly understand what they need to do and why.
The Horse’s Mouth: It is one thing to see a list of company values in your handbook and quite another to hear them from the leader of the company. Every new hire has a Company Values Meeting with me. For each value I tell a real story about an employee “hero” who did something that exemplified one of our values. One of those heroes was an employee who showed me that I had made a serious mistake. I need all of my employees to really believe that honest communications are something I truly value even if it means they need to correct me.
Fish Begin to Stink from the Head Down: Employees are going to emulate your behavior, not your rhetoric. You are dreaming if you think you have been successful at keeping much from them. These people depend on you for their livelihood so they focus on your every move with laser-like attention. You have to walk the talk.
One Decision Away from Disaster: On more than one occasion my customer service reps have made decisions that prevented me from losing money, protected me from legal exposure, preserved our reputation and once even saved someone’s life. Good decisions guided by clear company values really matter!
What could you start doing to communicate clear company values that employees can use as guide posts?
This blog was written by Laurie Leonard, the President of SUITE 1000, a U.S. based national telephone answering service, inbound call center and outsourced call center service. Her company has specialized in handling legal intake, sales leads, email lead response, appointment scheduling, customer service and help desk calls for over 20 years.