Where does it Start?!

Last week I was posed a question by a member in an audience of savvy business executives.

The question was: “How come Corporate America does not treat their employees with respect, concern, and care? How come they always put their customers ahead of their employees?”

Interesting question. As we know, “one size does not fit all” and this question applied a broad brush of stereotype, as we know some company cultures absolutely value their employees! Think: Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines, Nordstrom, and The Container Store – to name just a few that come to mind. Yet, we also know, others do not.

My answer to this question was/is simple.

1) It all starts with the individuals  – senior level through individual contributor – which make up the company AND

2) The value system which is embraced, incented, supported, and modeled by the executives of the company.

These points were affirmed in a recent article in The Corner Office column in The New York Times. Victoria Ransom of Wildfire, a social media marketing company, discussed the importance of values in creating the culture you want AND in having leaders to live and breathe these values. I paraphrase Victoria:

“The company is only as good as the leaders you have underneath you. You might think that because you’re projecting our values, then the rest of the company is experiencing the values. What you realize is that the direct supervisors become the most important influence on people in the company. Therefore, a big part of leading is to hold them accountable to the values you embrace. Be a company that actually puts its money where its mouth is.”

How true is this? It is certainly not revolutionary, yet it is becoming a rarity. Values are way more than phrases on a plaque when you come into the corporate lobby. They are living metrics  and behaviors to which we hold ourselves accountable. This means not only at the top of the organization – yet throughout the entire organization. The values become the ‘way we do things around here’ which translates into a culture.

Victoria and her team spent a weekend writing down what they  value in their people. “Then they literally sat down with every single person in the company in small groups and got their feedback — what do you like, what don’t you like, let’s tweak this. Some companies’ values are really about what the company stands for. We took more of the approach of what we look for in our people. Passion was a very important one. Team player. Humility and integrity. Another was courage, and that was all about speaking up — if you have a great idea, tell us, and if you disagree with people in the room, speak up.”

“In the end, it was a much, much harder process than I’d imagined. When I did these sessions with people to get their feedback on the values, most people were really excited. The ones who weren’t inevitably came from large companies who had gone through that process before, and they were very skeptical.”  She goes onto to say:

“I think the best way to undermine a company’s values is to put people in leadership positions who are not adhering to the values. Then it completely starts to fall flat until you take action and move those people out, and then everyone gets faith in the values again. It can be restored so quickly. You just see that people are happier.”

So, if we treat our employees with respect, concern, and empathy – and they become happier – does this translate into customer satisfaction? There are hundreds of studies which will unquestionably say ‘yes’.

Yet, to keep it simple today, lets ask ourselves: ‘When I am happier in my job and the company for which I work, am I nicer, more patient, and more understanding of others?”

Hmmmmm…….thought so.