The moment I realized how misunderstood values were in organizations came around 15 years ago during a session I was facilitating with the top team of a resources company.
It was in the early days of the green movement, around the time when caring about the planet was beginning to matter in the minds of some consumers. Green was moving from crazy, tree-hugging fringe into the main stream. The exercise to build company values turned to how the values would look in the annual report. “Care for the environment” was added as a late entry to the values list because “it’ll give us some good PR”.
Here was an organisation who was about to get into trouble for not walking the talk. A value is something you believe in because it is the right thing to do. An end in itself. Not as a way to get good PR, make more profit, be liked by your boss or get out of trouble. Not as a means to an end. When a value is adopted because it is a means to an end, it will be dropped when there is another way to achieve that end which does not require adherence to that value. Or if, by adhering to the value, the end will not be achieved.
Many insurance companies have ‘care for the customer’ in their values statements. Yet the industry has had a reputation for including small print in its policies which exclude many claims. Over time this builds a reputation of being untrustworthy. What is the ‘right thing to do’ in these circumstances? A values based company will wrestle with this dilemma. Every decision they make which truly cares for the customer, even at the expense of their own short term profit, will strengthen their credibility as a values based organisation, build customer trust and increase employee engagement.
Ah, I hear you say, but if they pay all those claims they will make no profit. Solving that problem is the job of management. Either remove ‘care for the customer’ from the values list and stop pretending, or find a way to be honest in your communication with customer so that they know exactly where they stand from the start. Is there a sustainable business to be made creating an insurance company people trust? The company that solves this will be the winner.
25 years ago, people would have said that adhering to strict safety standards would cost oil companies dearly in terms of profit. Yet today this industry leads the way in terms of values based leadership when it comes to safety. Looking after people’s safety really does come ahead of making a profit. And they have learned ways of making a profit, safely.
Are you values an end in themselves, or a means to an end? Unless they are an end in themselves, you will often be accused of not walking the talk. Which will lead to mistrust from both customers and employees. Step up and face the challenge. How can you hold your values, which matter to you more than anything, and make a profit? Solve this, and you have a sustainable business.