By John Friedman
Your core values are not the ones printed in posters on the wall. They are not the ones enshrined in your foundational documents. Your real core values are those that people bring with them - and apply - every day in countless small but meaningful ways every day. Those are the real values that drive decision-making, and therefore your organizational culture.
In fact, I have often noted that organizations that post them the largest, speak about them the loudest end up betraying them in a myriad of ways. No, I am not going to name names (that might get me in trouble) but think back about organizations where you have worked, or done business or used as a supplier.
When an organization says it is dedicated to something - let us say customer service as a simple example - it is not hard to determine if that is really true; or just something that they say. When someone delivers a substandard product (or service) how is their service recovery? [Note I say ‘service recovery’ because anyone can make a mistake or have a bad day.] However, how THEY respond tells you how they really feel about the situation. Do they take ownership or try to deflect? Are then honest and transparent.
I once stayed in a hotel … the location does not matter … and my computer was stolen from my room. Despite the fact that I had in my possession both of the card keys, the manager - who looked at the log and could confirm someone had entered my room twice in my absence using a key card - refused to accept the idea that it was someone operating inside their hotel (the room was on a high floor). He insisted that this had never happened before and intimated that I had lent my key to someone else who had robbed me, but that I was now embarrassed to admit that I had done so.
So, I asked him to call the police. He told me to go fill out a form in person. So, angrily I went and did just that. During the course of the time I was fortunate enough to meet a very kind officer casually mentioned that this was the fourth incident in the same hotel.
When the officer went back with me to the hotel - shocking the manager - the confrontation became rather humorous; and the police officer was able to get the manager to repeat the same lie that he had earlier told me. I started to get angry when the officer stopped me and said - in English for the benefit of this traveler who was not fluent in the local language - ‘Don’t worry. You know, I know and HE knows who is lying.’I insisted on filling out a police report (it was a company computer and I needed one for insurance). That’s when the hotel manager suddenly changed his tune. [The police told me most people do not bother once they know they will not likely get their property back.]
Faced with losing not just my business but also my entire company’s corporate account he tried - in earnest - proving that their core value was not the individual (whom they never expected to see again) but their corporate accounts.
On the other hand, a person barely speaking the language who was not able to articulate well what had happened (or that he was a regular visitor) saw the values of the police in full display. By taking the word of a stranger; ‘The person who comes to fill out a complaint, in the rain on a Sunday and waits 2 hours for someone who speaks their language is the one telling the truth.’
One could make a rightful argument that the core values of the police should include service to others - but the point here is that the values on display - in actions - speak more than words. No matter how loudly or often one shouts them.
Photo: Flickr creative commons 2.0