Welcome to The Values Blog. In these pages, we share ideas and insights designed to help organisations like yours to create, embed and embody the Values you stand for and the behaviours you desire.
In his career as a Management Consultant and Change Activist, Peter Venn has observed that often, businesses that talk about their own Values fail to engage them with their people and customers. They become meaningless words, posters on the wall that rarely come to life in the everyday running of the business.
This space will be a catalyst for business leaders to develop their own strategies for making their own company Values come to life. We'll share stories that will provoke reflection, we'll develop a thought leadership network and reveal practical ideas that will help you engage your people with everything your company stands for. In doing this, our own Values are:
Jessica has been a news reporter on a popular regional newspaper for several years. She has a great reputation for getting the bigger stories. She gets depth into her articles, and is always able to link to the human side of a story. Her readers love her.
Inside the newspaper, Jessica also has a reputation. Rather a maverick figure, Jessica bends the rules when doing that allows her to get the real story. A few of her colleagues have become a little jealous of her, as Jessica seems to be the "Teflon Woman" - she can get away with just about anything, because she's such a great reporter. As she sees it, better to ask forgiveness than permission!
Jessica's Head of Current Affairs knows Jessica well. He knows he needs to give her the space she needs in which to operate. For a long time, he's turned a blind eye to some of her operating practices, because, bottom line, her copy sells newspapers.
The news in the newsroom spreads like wild-fire. The Head of Current Affairs has been replaced. Taking over his role is a young guy in his 30s, a high-flyer with an MBA, someone who wants to climb high and fast.
Brent - the new Head of Current Affairs - immediately starts to stamp his mark on the newsroom. He wants more accountability, better structure, and better visibility of who is doing what. Brent's objectives are to manage costs down, while creating a better news focus.
To accomplish the first objective, all expenses must be accounted for with proper receipts. Overtime must be approved before it's taken. And, travel must also be approved in advance.
For the second objective, Brent sets up a new system, whereby all the news reporters gain approval for any news stories they believe will sell papers. Brent's guidance will ensure that the news policy of the paper is protected and enhanced, through reporters focusing on those specific interest areas.
Jessica is aghast. She feels that all her creativity and previous success has been ignored, and that her wings have been clipped by Brent. Having been used to running with a story based on gut instinct, spending a little to loosen tongues and moving around the region to make progress on a story, now Jessica feels that she's totally reeled in by this guy, not long out of college, who doesn't know one end of a printing press from another.
Two very different views; on the one hand, Jessica wants the freedom back to let her be good at the job she loved doing. On the other hand, Brent needs to know where his people are, and more importantly, what his team are doing.
So - who would you side with? Jessica, or Brent?
Think about it - there's no "right" or "wrong" answer to this question - it's simply who you would side with.
Made up your mind? Good!
So now do something else. Think about your own personal Values. What are they?
Might they include: Discipline, Trust, Commitment, Responsibility, Balance, Clarity, Duty, Logic, Order, Efficiency or Authority?
Or might they include: Passion, Determination, Courage, Imagination, Spirit, Creativity, Adventure, Exploration, Competition, Curiosity, Mystery, Expression, Freedom, Initiative, Spontaneity, Flexibility, Confidence, Luck or Tenacity?
If your Values tend to be in the first list, you'll probably have sided with Brent. If your Values fell more in the second list, you're more likely to have sided with Jessica.
So what does this tell us? Clearly, decisions we make each and every day are made on the basis of our personal Values. In business, or at home, this can cause conflict if a strong Value we have is in contrast to a Value others hold. So maybe finding consensus means finding Values we have in common with each other, so we can agree on a decision that we can all live with.
Tom has been with the organisation for several years. He's one of the most trusted people, and can be counted on to deliver the right level of quality, on time and to budget.
Customers love Tom, and he demonstrates his Values of discipline, stability, order and duty in everything he does.
Tom's manager leaves for a promotion, and he is replaced by Zara. Zara was chosen as someone who could inject a little pizzazz, a little zest, into the business. Indeed, her Values are around imagination, spontaneity, creativity and adventure.
Clearly, Tom and Zara will get on like a house on fire!
Our personal Values are the standards that we hold dear and aspire to live to. The problem comes when others appear to display Values which are the polar opposite of our own.
So Zara, wanting to bring some new punch and innovation to the business, will observe Tom as being stuck in the mud, with no challenge, no ideas, and actually a really dull person. She'll be thinking "Pull your socks up, Tom, for goodness sake!"
Tom, on the other hand, will see Zara as a de-stabling influence. Everything she does will grate against Tom's Values of structure, stability and order. He'll be thinking "For goodness sake, settle down and get on the programme!"
It's going to be tough for both of them.
Both Tom and Zara work on two new Values. Values of Tolerance and Patience. Working with those Values, both individuals will develop a better understanding of each other, begin to realise the purpose and value of those differing Values.
People make decisions based on their Values. But who is to say that Tom's Values are not useful in the business where consistent quality is required and high compliance? Additionally, who could fault Zara for wanting to break the mould and create better systems and processes through innovation and creativity?
Working together, it will be possible for both parties to deliver those better processes and systems in the context of creating a new consistency that provides higher quality and compliance. But they'll both have to see the world from each others' perspective first, through tolerance and patience.
Thinking about how we communicate with our people, apart from the general conversations we have, there is the corporate briefing, team buzz, one to one, coaching session and ad hoc meetings.
Then of course, there are the home-spun posters, wallboards and pictures we create in order to brighten the place up and reinforce key messages. Often not quite so controlled, and here the message can sometimes work against its intent. Here's an example:
The HR Director was very clear. "Here", he said, "we absolutely respect our people. We treat them like the adults that they are, and talk to them as adults. We know these people come to us with life skills and experience, so we want them to feel like the equals that they are. Respect is one of our core Values".
As we spoke, we entered a huge training room. I think my jaw actually dropped!
Along one wall, probably 10 metres in length, was a giant mural. Disney-esque cartoon pictures of whales, with bubbles coming from their blow-holes containing the core Values of the business, mixed with other sea creatures, embodying some of the expected behaviours of staff. It looked as if it had been produced for a kindergarten.
I wondered how, as an adult employee, I might feel with this as an example of how the business demonstrated "treating employees with respect, as adults".
Creative zeal is always a great talent to have in the business. However, it's always best to take a moment to evaluate if the media and style truly fits with the intended message. If not, the hard work that's put into the visual appeal might be working against the message...
A few years ago, I was delivering a change initiative in a telecoms business. An element of this was changing mindsets in the contact centres. Inevitably, some training was involved.
Values of this business included "Commitment". For the contact centre advisors, partly that translated into being on time and managing shift adherence. "Shift adherence" is all around how a person manages time against their rostered shift. So if I'm an advisor whose shift starts at 9am, what am I doing at 9am? It's not good enough for me to be simply walking into the building. It's insufficient for me to be sitting down at my desk. Because according to the call volumes forecast, I need to be sitting at my desk, fully logged into my systems with my headset on and "ready" to take my first call.
It's the same for any volume-based activity. For the advisors, though, this means that a moment's lateness is chided by management and time management is completely directed by the shift. "Commitment" is when advisors turn up on time, go to break on time, return on time, go to lunch on time and, throughout the day, micromanage their time according to their shift pattern.
So, just for a moment, let's put on the hat of one of these advisors, sit in their space and look over their flat-screen. What do we see?
Oh, my manager hasn't turned up yet. She’s "running late" or "caught up somewhere". Note the different language of lateness here? If I'm late, I'm "late", and that lateness is frowned upon and dealt with through performance management. But when managers are late, the language is softer and excusing.
Oh, now where's she gone? Oh, she's over there, chatting to her friend, another team leader. I expect they are having a gossip about last night. Look, off they go, I expect they've popped downstairs for a coffee.
OK, advisor hats off! What was all that about?
Well, a number of things:
If we don't know what's happening, we'll make up a feasible story. Sure, the manager might be late, but she might have gone straight into a managers' meeting. That conversation with her colleague might also be work-related.If my time is so tightly managed, I'll perceive it as unfair if my manager (or others in the business) seem to have so much discretion around their own time.
The bottom line - the use of the "Commitment" value here needs context.
Motivating with Values is all about context. If I'm a manager, perhaps I should be sharing a little more with my team. "I'll be going straight to a performance review meeting in the morning, so will be late on the floor. While I'm away, Sam will be looking after you". Now your team knows exactly what you're doing, where you'll be, and where to go for support. They'll recognise your demonstration of "commitment" and more attracted to demonstrating their own.
Another Value in this contact centre was "Taking personal responsibility". Let's slip that advisor hat back on for a moment and take our seats:
I've been sat here for nearly 2 hours and I still have a while to go before my break. I really need the bathroom, but I don't want to feel like a schoolkid by putting my hand up to attract my manager. I want to take personal responsibility for when I leave, but there's no information that can help me make a professional decision. Sure, the wallboards are telling me there are 2 calls in the queue, but when it says no calls in the queue, can I take the chance to go then?
Bathroom breaks don’t seem to bother my manager. She’s off again: it’s so unfair!
Advisor hats off again!
Contact Centres use wallboards to show essential information around current call volumes and available resources. But if there are 100 calls queueing, one advisor can only handle one or two of them. So what if the wallboard, rather than displaying "calls queueing", displayed "Advisors available"? Then, an advisor could make an informed decision on, say, when to go to the bathroom, if there were a number of advisors available to take calls. Simple, surely?
The key thing here, then, is around acceptable behaviours. If my behaviour is deemed as unacceptable, yet my manager is applauded when she behaves in a way that appears similar, it feels unfair.
So here's an idea - why not keep a few extra hats in your kit-bag. Pop on the hat of someone in your team and try to understand how they are interpreting things. That'll give you the opportunity to set context with your people, so they understand the reason things are the way they are.
Try a new hat today! A different hat will give you a different perspective on reality.
And while we are at it, there are a few extra hats you could try on. A customer's hat, a shareholder's hat, a competitor's hat. Doing this will give you new insights into how you and your business is perceived, helping you develop empathy for other people's viewpoints.
And imagine using this technique as a coaching tool!
Unless your name is Ernst Stavro Blofeld and your organisation is SPECTRE*, it's likely that your own organisation has positive Values. Typically, they'll relate to preferred behaviours around how you treat customers, how you improve your products and services, how you innovate and how you want customers to be treated.
Let's bring this up at the next senior executive meeting. We'll have a quick brainstorm, then we'll have our list of key Values. Simple, eh!
Launching them in the business is just as simple. Best get Marketing to design some nice posters, then pin them up around the office, and everybody starts engaging with those values, right? Well, no...
The concept of Values is multi-faceted, and can rebound, both on the organisation and its individuals.
Let's explore how, using two simple examples.
As a company worker, I might see that poster that tells me my company stands for "Openness" and "Respect". Those Values may resonate with me deeply, as I like to be open with people and show respect to others. So how am I feeling when my experience of my manager is that she is extremely secretive and shares little about what's going on in the business? How do I feel when any ideas I have are pushed to one side without being given any credibility or recognition? And how do I feel if the culture in the business is so brutal, that any failure is rewarded with public humiliation?
As a customer, I may see that you have a Value of "Fairness". Yet everything about how you do business (hidden additional costs of purchase or the way you treat me when I complain) leads me to conclude that your Value is hollow and worthless. In terms of true perception and reputation, your Values lie to me.
The Values of an organisation tell us what the company stands for. So, as an organisation, you'll have a Vision of how you want the business to develop in the future, and how you want the business to be perceived, by customers, staff, shareholders, suppliers and competitors. You'll most likely have a clear Mission that defines what you want the business to do over a period of time. To deliver that Vision and Mission, your Values must therefore relate directly to successful achievement.
If your Values are what you stand for, they must clearly relate to the behaviours you need to encourage in your people, so that they can make an easy connection between those Values and how they operate.
Obvious? Yes of course. Less obvious maybe, and certainly poorly embodied in many organisations, is how those Values are communicated, used and brought to life. So as a starting point, let's consider some of the key touchpoints in staff and customer life-cycles:
The Values of an organisation only work effectively when everyone visibly lives and breathes them. Realistically, then, will success be a "given" if we simply impose a set of Values on our people, launching them with a fanfare of roadshows and posters? Instead, how might it be if we asked the questions - "What do you want our company to stand for?" "How would we tell when we were walking our talk?" "How do we want to treat our customers and each other, and how do we expect to be treated?"
Involving our people in our Values from the very beginning encourages buy-in and engagement. The very act of involving our people will probably be a great signpost to at least one of the Values you are aiming for. Values like "Respect our people", "Innovation" and "Working Together" will already be demonstrated through this process of involvement.
Once defined, understand how those Values will manifest themselves in the desired behaviours of your people. Use them and relate to them in your staff training. Bring those behaviours to life in every performance or coaching conversation. Create opportunities to recognise them through the appraisals and job evaluations. Make them part of the natural language of the organisation, with positive examples in every staff newsletter and in every staff meeting.
Your company Values form the foundation for everything that happens in your business. They can be a catalyst for rye cynicism or true aspiration in your people. How they are perceived is up to you...
*SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion - in case you'd forgotten!
Amanda had worked her way up to Senior Cabin Crew Manager on some of the most prestigious long-haul routes. Her passion for giving customers the very best experience had won her an enviable trophy collection over the years. Customers loved her, and so did her staff. She lived, breathed and demonstrated her Value for caring in everything she did.
When she returned to work after bringing up her family, she took a ground role, as a customer service advisor in the airline's contact centre. Again, she brought that passion for caring to this new role, and immediately began to receive positive feedback from customers.
However, the contact centre management was unhappy with Amanda's performance in terms of the time she was spending on the phone with customers. In "contact centre speak", this is classed as Average Handling Time, or AHT. Contact Centres use AHT as a metric to plan for the resources necessary to handle the expected volume of customer calls. If AHT is higher than anticipated, customers will queue to speak to an advisor.
Many enlightened businesses have now downgraded AHT as a measure of advisor performance, recognising that it's the output of the call that's most important - the result of the call and how the customer felt about it.
We'll leave the debate on whether AHT is an effective performance metric for another time. I'll debate that point in a future article. In this centre, though, Amanda was facing consequential performance management because her AHT was significantly higher than the centre norm.
The problem was that Amanda could not visualise how she could provide that stellar customer experience that she personally valued so highly, within the constraint of a shorter call handling time.
In effect, her high personal Value had become a barrier to her ability to do her job. She was becoming stressed in work and losing sleep at night, and she was becoming depressed as a result.
A new manager took over the running of Amanda's team. As part of the handover, this manager took time to get to know all of the team. In her conversation with Amanda, the issue of AHT soon came up, and Amanda shared her belief that, in order to provide great customer service, she shouldn't have to rush her calls.
Her new manager explored this belief with Amanda. She questioned Amanda about her previous job as a stewardess, and how well her team and customer thought of her. Then they discussed the precise nature of her role on long-haul flights. Tasks included ensuring that all passengers were safely seated before take-off, that all meals were served in time, and that passengers' every needs were satisfied throughout the flight.
Gradually, Amanda was able to recognise that, even in that role, timing was important. All the meals had to be delivered hot - and before the plane landed! Realising this for the first time, Amanda was able to connect with the fact that she'd been able to provide amazing customer service to her passengers within a set amount of time.
Making that connection removed the Value barrier for Amanda. She realised that she'd been able to manage great customer experience within a timeframe before. All she needed to do was translate that ability into her new role.
Amanda's manager began to coach her. Together, they discovered that Amanda's conversations could be made more effective by using more efficient questioning techniques. With practice, Amanda found these new questioning techniques were helping her to understand her customers' requirements quicker, giving her the information she needed to help the customer sooner. Rather than the calls feeling rushed, she found they were becoming more focused and effective. And customers loved her approach, because they were getting what they wanted quickly. so they could get on with their lives.Amanda's stress levels disappeared. She felt in control, and now, rather than feeling her work compromised her Values, recognised that her Values were being demonstrated in every conversation she had with a customer.
Values are important to us, and to the organisations we work for. We sometimes need to work to make the connection between those Values and the behaviours we need to adopt to bring them to life in our work environment. Great managers know how to support us in making those connections.
A number of years ago, I was involved in some consultancy in a health-care contact centre, where calls involved an amount of triage. Call handlers were trained nurses, used to giving good "bedside manner" and putting their patients at ease. On calls, then, their focus was on gently encouraging callers to open up and tell them what was wrong.
The calls often lasted half an hour. Now anyone involved in contact centre scheduling will know that long calls cause huge issues for capacity planning and scheduling, and that was an issue here. Call handlers - these experienced nurses - were vowed and determined that their "bedside manner" should translate effectively into the contact centre environment. The calls would last as long as they needed. They valued patient care above everything.
I was reminded of this experience recently, while working in a different contact centre. Call handling time - AHT - was not a metric in this centre, as the Client wanted the focus to be purely on customer satisfaction and the customer experience.
Now frankly, I don't care what the AHT is for a call type. It should last long enough for the caller to get what they want and have the abiity to use that information. Too fast, and the caller is likely to be confused, or forget what they were told. However, calls that are too long can also leave a customer feeling frustrated as they really want to "get on with their lives"
We researched the call handling times for a range of call types, and found that, within each call type, there was a huge range of handling times, depending on the call handler: around 8 minutes in some cases between the fastest and slowest. Now the thing is, a snapshot of an hour here or there can be misleading, so we researched teams' handling times over a period of weeks, and still found these wide ranges of handling times.
Once we understood what was happening, we identified a "realistic" handling time to work towards. Identifying outliers, we helped team leaders in training and coaching interventions in order to assist call handlers to create efficiency where it was lacking. Typically, this meant working on creating questioning efficiency, improving listening skills and creating a more effective call recap, that aided information retention for customers.
The result, of course, was a reduced range of handling times that more accurately represented the realistic time needed to address those customer queries. Doing this took the pressure of the centre, especially at busy times, as call handlers were released from their calls earlier and ready for the next.
So, why is this in a blog about Values?
Very simply, this: it's well and good to prioritise a Value of great customer service, but if we don't understand the output of our strategy - which in the case of the health-care contact centre was patients getting more and more frustrated because it was taking ages to get guidance, and in the more recent case, customers just wanted to get a quick answer and get on with their lives - that strategy might well be working against the very principals of "great customer service".
Whatever your political bias, I'm sure you'll agree with me that the UK Public has just taken part in the most crucial decision we've been asked to make for over 40 years. That decision, now made, has caused immense tension and even vitriol between those who voted to stay in the EU and those who voted to leave. Friends of many years' standing are now "unfriending" each other on Facebook, and personalised comments, some very offensive, are ensuing. From a cultural as well as political perspective, we may be entering a turbulent time.
I suspect that many interested observers might suggest that, however the UK Public voted, their decisions were based on soundbites, conjecture and inference. Already, I've heard people saying "If we'd been told the things in the 3 months up to the referendum that we were told in the 24 hours following it, we would have voted differently", which seems to me to be a sad reflection on our politicians of all political leanings.
Politics in the UK (and elsewhere, I believe) is being undermined by a general and genuine Public mistrust. In promises, politicians say "the right things" in order to persuade, then in their actions, demonstrate these "right things" were simply meaningless statements, throwaway lines, hollow and insincere.
To be believable, politicians will have to start acting from the Values we expect of them, the Values they owe the Public, rather than burying them in personal agenda, get-out clauses and retractions. When these people retract on campaign promises plastered all over a "battle bus", the Public can be forgiven for becoming cynical and painting the whole political landscape with a very dirty brush.
So it's all the fault of the politicians then? Well, are we sure?
When such a prominent group of people show us that their promises and Values are meaningless, it encourages others to polarise their own opinions based on their own fears and agenda. People who would almost certainly say they believed in truth, integrity and personal honour begin to act from self-protection, defensiveness and alarm. Opinions become fed by "deepest fears" which then lead to the sort of vitriol and personal attack we've seen in media or even experienced ourselves.
The UK is multicultural - that's our reality. And, over recent times, the different cultures within our political and ethical mix seem to have drifted apart. I believe that, to make a success of this country in the future, we need to have leadership with a positive - and honest - Vision. A Vision that unites, a Vision that people are attracted to and a Vision that translates easily into the sort of Values and behaviours we should be known for.
The power of shared Values is uniting. Our leadership - whoever that is - will be wise to work on a Vision that starts to repair the fractures in our Society and, instead, begins to bond. A connected population - connected by unity of purpose, with clear demonstration from our leaders of the behaviours and actions necessary to deliver that purpose - will be unstoppable, whatever challenges we face in the years to come.