Keeping core values in check to preserve corporate culture

/DECK--> Why do people work for your company? It could be the pay or the benefits, but in today’s changing business environment, intangibles are increasingly more important to employees. One intangible that contractors have a tough time defining is corporate culture.

The closest definition of corporate culture is the Harvard Business Review explanation of core ideology which: “defines the enduring character of an organization – a consistent identity that transcends product or market life cycles, technological breakthroughs, management fads, and individual leaders.” The core ideology is a company’s fundamental reason for existence. This may sound intimidating, but when broken down can be manageable for any size organization.

Let’s assume the culture of a particular company could be viewed by either insiders (employees) or outsiders (general public) as a collection of attributes contributing to the company’s success.

Recently, Mark Browning with Varsity Contractors asked us how a company can grow quickly without jeopardizing its corporate culture.

Before we can suggest ways to protect corporate culture from growth, we need to have a good understanding of our company’s values — a critical component of culture.

Identifying core values
Come up with a list of features, attitudes, or adjectives that can be used to describe working in your company. Are there specific attributes (values) that set your company apart from the competition? What type of tone, professionalism or work ethic do your leaders display? Most companies have only a few core values — between three and five. If you identify more, try to determine which few are truly core, ones that will not change over time.

Disney, as an example, cites the core values of “imagination” and “wholesomeness.” Procter & Gamble touts “product excellence.” Nordstrom values “service to the customer, above all else.” Hewlett Packard’s original value was “respect for the individual.”

Contractors must understand that a company’s core values, by definition, are not created as a competitive advantage. A true core value would be maintained by a company, even if it presents a competitive disadvantage in certain situations. Core values need not have any external justification; they need only intrinsic value.

One important note — when looking at a company to determine its values and culture, one must be extremely critical. While we may want a company to exceed expectations in all of its commitments — to employees, the industry, the community and the environment — realistically, it won’t. And if a company is lacking in some values don’t think of it as a failures, but simply a sign that a stronger focus is needed.

Defining your purpose
Another component of a corporate culture is the core purpose — a company’s reason for being.

In a speech to employees, David Packard of Hewlett Packard cautioned that “…many people assume wrongly, that a company exists simply to make money … but the underlying drive (purpose) comes largely from a desire to do something else: to make a product, to give a service — generally to do something which is of value.”

If you are having trouble identifying your company’s purpose, try answering these simple questions…We provide cleaning services — why? We provide environmentally friendly products — why? We provide (insert your specialty) — why? Keep asking “why” to each answer and you will begin to determine your company’s purpose.

Think of your core purpose as something that never can be fully realized. You may work toward — and achieve — goals, but you should never stop coming up with ways to progress. A core purpose must endure throughout the lifetime of your company.

For instance, Mary Kay Cosmetics states their purpose to be “to give unlimited opportunity to women.” The very nature of “unlimited” is unattainable, but the company still will achieve their other goals or milestones.

Communicating your ideology
Once identified, communicate your values and purpose both internally and externally. This is the company’s first step to delivering on the commitment.
First communicate your values and purpose to employees. Be sure that you have their full commitment. Individuals who cannot support these values will not help your organization move forward. It is critical to an organization’s success that everyone operates under the same guiding principles.

Identify these values during interviews; use them in initial and ongoing training; post them prominently at your work sites; incorporate them into your evaluation processes; and most importantly, have senior management espouse them daily. Only by having your senior team members champion these values can you begin to realize the strength of defining them.

Once you’re confident that your values and purpose are supported internally, communicate them to the outside world, to customers and the general public.

Use opportunities in the press, in association involvement, in trade publications and press releases, and in networking to pass on these values and how your employees are involved day-to-day in the commitment to fulfill these values. There is consistent evidence of the self-fulfilling prophecy here. The more you communicate the small successes, the more it will stimulate progress toward your goals.

One word of caution, however: Don’t preach what you are not practicing. You’ll step into a potential minefield if you spout your purpose and your values to the public when your employees aren’t aboard.

This brings us back to Mark’s question: In times of growth, how do we preserve our corporate culture? The key is to guarantee that your core values are not compromised for the sake of appearing to grow. Effective time management and thoughtful planning will allow for time to reinforce values, even during stressful periods. Reward managers and employees who actively demonstrate these values.

Managers can come onto the job site and find examples of “doing it right,” then encourage other workers to follow. Identify one core value per day to reinforce in this manner.

What were once periods of stressful growth will now be success stories of your team delivering on values and performing beyond expectations.

Joseph K. Fairley is an industry veteran and executive vice president of business development for Building One Service Solutions, an Encompass Services Corp. company.