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Values are a business imperativeIt’s springtime! The trees are beginning to bud, and soon they will be in full bloom. I am reminded of the “great tree service debacle” several years ago.

We had several beautiful trees that required spraying to ward off disease and bugs. Our tree service would come about four times during the season to spray the trees. We had used them for years and they were dependable, so I didn’t pay too much attention to when they came.

However, that year, they showed up one day while my son was mowing the lawn.

Returning from work I noticed them as I drove up my driveway – the sprayer standing next to the dogwood and my son approaching him pushing  the lawn mower.

The spray was aimed at the tree, but the wind carried the spray directly toward my son.

I jumped out of my car and ran to the man who was spraying.

“Watch out!” I yelled as I ran toward him. “Your spray is blowing on that boy!”

He stopped spraying as I approached him and smiled at me patiently.  “I know,” he replied in a reassuring voice. “I asked him and he said he didn’t mind.”

The boy didn’t mind.  But his mother sure did!

Who did I hold responsible? The tree service company, not their employee.

What was the cause of their problem?  Lack of clear organizational values.

When organizations don’t articulate clear values, individuals are left to their own devices to determine which values should guide them.  In the case of my tree service, the nice gentleman spraying my son with chemicals was guided by a value of courtesy. He had quite nicely asked my son whether he minded, and he was as nice as could be when he explained to me that there was no problem.

What did I do? I fired them on the spot. I wasn’t going to wait for them to change their company’s culture. You don’t mess with a mama bear!

Values are the bedrock of organizational culture.

My friend and colleague Mark Miller, author of the new book Leaders Made Here: Building a Leadership Culture, says that culture is “the collective habits of the people. Not the aspirations of leadership. Culture is not what we wish it would be, it is what it is. It is what people actually do with a high degree of predictability.”

Values are guiding principles that provide broad guidelines on how to behave on a day-to-day basis. When an organization shares the same values, they will develop the collective habits that Mark describes.

Clear values are a business imperative.

I wish my tree service company had articulated a value around environmental safety.

If they had, the sprayer might have knocked on my door when he arrived and suggested that I shut my windows. He might have noticed there were children’s toys in the yard and move them before he sprayed. And he certainly wouldn’t have sprayed while the wind carried the mist onto a young man who was mowing the lawn.

And if they had identified and clearly communicated their values, they would still be working for us.

4 tips to identify your organizational values.

  1. Choose the values needed to support the purpose of your team or company. For example, CNN is in the fast breaking news business, so they need values like “fast” and “accurate” to support their purpose. Disneyworld is in a different business and needs different values like “safety” and “service.”
  2. Identify the 3 to 5 key values. It’s too difficult to remember a laundry list.
  3. Describe values in terms of behavior – a single word can mean different things to different people.
  4. Values should be ranked in order of importance. Knowing that safety was their number one value enabled Johnson & Johnson to make a quick decision in the Tylenol tampering incident in 1982.

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Leaders Made Here Mark MillerThis post was inspired by Mark Miller’s excellent new book. Leaders Made Here: Building a Leadership Culture – an enjoyable parable about a struggling company in a leadership crisis. Filled with practical advice, Mark shares important lessons on how to grow leadership within a company, Mark started his Chick-fil-A career in 1977 working as an hourly team member. In 1978, he joined the corporate staff as the sixteenth employee – he divided him time between the warehouse and the mailroom. Since then, Mark has provided leadership for Corporate Communications, Field Operations, Quality and Customer Satisfaction, Training and Development, Organizational Effectiveness and Leadership Development.

 

Photo Credit: Bigstock/Artisticco LLC | Clear Values Are a Business Imperative

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