Culture change can’t happen, nor can a company’s culture survive, without the active support of the CEO.
If you look at today’s most successful companies, you’ll notice that they share something in common. Regardless of size or industry, and whether they’re consumer or business focused, top-performing organizations are driven by values and a value-based culture.
For more than two decades, and most recently at People Ink, I have helped a wide range of companies— including JetBlue Airways, Restoration Hardware, Disney and P.F. Chang’s—adopt a values-based culture and use those values to drive performance excellence.
Every company’s culture is different, but in my experience, each one needs to be supported by these five key factors in order to be authentic, durable and effective.
Build leadership commitment
Culture change can’t happen, nor can a company’s culture survive, without the active support of the CEO. In addition to establishing the company culture and creating a governance structure that aligns the organization with those cultural values, the CEO needs to find meaningful ways of communicating those values. Great cultures tell great stories, and CEOs need to reinvent themselves as ‘Chief Experience Officers’ and master storytellers who define the culture and values in meaningful ways.
Create a values blueprint
Values don’t just happen. They are created through a formal process that brings the right stakeholders together to brainstorm, prioritize, and finalize no more than 5 – 7 values that define the organization. Involve people from all aspects of the business to contribute, and stack the deck with your “A” players—those top-performing employees who understand the company’s vision.
Translate values into a blueprint of behaviors that every employee should model in their daily performance.
Creating those values is one thing. Living them day after day is another. Once you’ve identified your values, don’t just put them up on the wall and admire them. You need to turn them into a culture engine blueprint capable of leveraging those values across the organization. The first step is to translate those values into the behaviors that every employee needs to model in their daily performance. The next step is to establish a values committee to ensure that your values are represented in everything your company does, from helping an employee in need to evaluating the CEO.
Hire “A” players
Your values-based culture needs to guide talent acquisition and help you hire A players—the people who have not just the skills but also the values that align with the company’s goals.
To spot those A players, look at their past behaviors. Behavior is 90% predictive, so if you can find out how someone behaved in the past, you can predict the way they’ll behave on the job with you.
I urge the companies I work with to weight values equally with competencies when evaluating talent. If a culturally toxic employee is hired or allowed to stay on simply on the basis of their skill profile, the company loses credibility, its employees lose faith and its culture is undermined.
Create accountability and rewards
Keeping a values-based culture strong requires a system of accountability and rewards. People need to know when their behaviors don’t align with the company’s values and be held accountable for the outcomes. It’s equally important to celebrate and share those moments when employees live the values and go above and beyond.
Many organizations, including those in the LLR Partners portfolio, are finding innovative ways to reward their employees. I recently spoke to LLR’s portfolio companies at their annual CEO Collaborate gathering and learned about some of the ways their CEOs embody corporate values and use reward systems. At IOD Incorporated (now part of Ciox Health), the organization’s leaders started handing out badges to recognize employees on Yammer. At Orbis Education and Numotion, the CEOs make anniversary calls to personally recognize the contribution of every long-serving employee.
CEOs need to reinvent themselves as ‘Chief Experience Officers’ and master storytellers who define the culture and values in meaningful ways.
I’m seeing some interesting ways to create accountability, too. My former client JetBlue created an app that delivers key performance metrics to every employee’s iPhone every day, so that whether they’re accountable for cost reduction, health and safety, or customer satisfaction, they can see what they need to achieve as well as the impact they’re making.
Build your customer brand
How you act internally is how you are perceived externally. Your organization’s values and employee engagement will drive your client engagement. And every employee—every day and with every interaction—has the power to build or destroy your brand.
When we hired Bain to identify the most important part of the JetBlue experience, they looked at every single element—from ticket prices to in-flight entertainment—to find out what stood out. The research clearly showed that employee service was the key differentiator. Our values-driven behaviors defined our customer brand, and that has held true for every organization I have worked with.
Here’s the bottom line.
A values-based culture is powerful. It drives employee engagement, organizational performance and customer satisfaction and loyalty. But it doesn’t just happen. As CEO, your job is to lead it, live it and build processes that support employees to model behaviors and make decisions that strengthen those values every day.
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