Values & Culture

I got my first opportunity for a “real” job when I was fifteen years of age. Jensen’s Groceries in Blue Jay California was hiring young people for a variety of positions. Jensen’s was what today we call “old school” and its values were expressed quite clearly even during the interview and especially through the supervisors.

Our hair was to be groomed short and neat. Our white shirt pressed while wearing a tie – always. Even our walking pace had to be at least a step or two faster than the average walker. Immediately halting our activity to assist a customer was a must. No tolerance for anything else. Promptness, organization, and cleanliness in our person, work, and station was the norm. Rarely did I notice a fellow employee work outside of these lines (values). If I did, it didn’t last long either because he or she course corrected or they quietly stopped showing up for work.

To top off this memory, every supervisor I ever met including Mr. Jensen himself always treated me kindly and professionally. I was only fifteen but Jensen’s example of shaping culture has never left my mind.

Some people ask, “What exactly is culture and why are values important?”

In my mind, the culture of an organization is like the character of a person. In the final analysis, character is not always what one says they believe or do, it is what they do in most situations and circumstances. No one is perfect. That’s what we say. But when that person falls, we tend to see the fall more than the past. We also tend to lower our perceived character score for that person, even if it was “out of character,” meaning, not what we have come to expect.

In the same way, we judge the culture of an organization by what it does day in and day out. To be more exact, we judge the culture of an organization by how it does what it does day in and day out. Let’s take it another step. Culture is how and what most people do within the organization day in and day out without being specifically instructed in every detail. So, like the character of an individual, culture is what and how the people within the organization behave toward their work, the customer, colleagues, and all stakeholders most of the time and in most situations.

Just like the fall of an individual, your culture can be judged by the poor behavior of one employee at the wrong place and at the wrong time. If I have a bad experience one time with someone from your organization, I will be tempted to judge the culture of your organization based upon that one poor experience.

Real core values carefully created through collaboration and leadership shape your organization’s culture. They must be described in positive and real time terms and they must be practiced just like a person’s grooming habits. When I read the word or phrase of your value and then it’s description, I should be able to see your value in action in my mind’s eye and then look up and see it in action with my physical eye. Let me give you a simple example:

Customer Service: When serving others, we do what most would expect from a high performing individual or organization “AND THEN SOME.”

So, in my mind’s eye, I imagine pleasantness, timeliness, problem solving, etc. And then I look up and watch the following unfold. A woman walks into the reception area and asks for Mr. Piper. The receptionist STANDS, smiles and politely welcomes the guest to the Piper Group asking if she would like a bottle of water and then says: “May I tell Mr. Piper your name?” After she makes a quick call to Mr. Piper, she hands the guest a bottle of water, explains where the restrooms are located and then escorts her to Mr. Piper’s office. She introduces the two and then goes back to her less important duties.

What’s so great about that experience? How often do we walk into a place where heads are down and stay down until they have time to deal with the less important duty which is you? How often does one point where to go instead of escort? You get the picture. It’s a fairly simple example but if the positive example were to radiate throughout the organization what kind of Customer Service culture might there be and what kind of effect might it have on ROI? Analysts… put your laptops down. No need to collect data here. Trust me. Do what’s right and you will transform your culture and your bottom line! Sometimes I think our high IQ business culture is getting dumber because of our declining EQ.

Coaching Tips:

  • Start with one value. Define it. Embody it. Catch people living it and make a big deal out of it. Then go to the next value and repeat.
  • Three values are powerful. Four to five doable but will water down the three truly core values. You decide but if you become a believer in core values, you will never identify more than five.

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