I was at a vendor meeting last week. I was explaining to the two people in the meeting room how our advertising needs to be more than just call to action, the message needs to be 100% on brand, it has to integrate with our event boxes, running an ad one day late into next month or starting a day late is unacceptable because it reflects poorly on our organization. What I was doing was getting them to understand our value: Make Things Better. I told them this and one of them smiled and then commented. “You are quoting your company values and I do not even know ours, even though they are printed on our walls.”
When I walked into the building I had noticed (it is almost impossible not to notice) in the middle of a wall boldly displayed in a stylized font: Company Mission …to act with integrity…the list went on. So I asked the two in the meeting “Even though you walk past that big loud display every day, you do not know your values?” One of them replied “Well there is something about integrity in it”.
I love literature and the lessons about humanity it teaches. This conversation made me think of the rogue knight Falstaff in the Shakespeare play King Henry IV Part 1 Act 5 Scene 1 “What is honour? A word. What is the word honour?…Air”
To those two I was in the meeting with and I would argue to most people at most organizations, the mission, values, fundamentals, whatever you call a bunch of words which are supposed to guide the behavior of the organization and its people; this bunch of words on the wall are just words, which is just air. They mean nothing.
So how can you bring values to life? Can they be more than just words?
I believe so and I would recommend reading Fundamentally Different by David J. Friedman. It has reinforced the principle of rituals to me. David argues that through teaching rituals you can bring your values to life.
Every week I have a ritual; I write a real story about one of Flaman Group of Companies values. I write these stories to bring to life our company values by showcasing the behaviour we want the values to represent. An organization’s culture is not the words on the wall it is the behaviour the organization accepts of its staff.
I also believe if you want to change the way your teams treat their customers, conduct their work, clean or do not clean their work space, it will be up to you and your leadership team to define, to be examples and hold your staff accountable to the standards you wish to see. To quote Mahatma Gandhi “Be the change that you wish to see…”
Values are a funny thing. They only endure as long as they are taught, supported and reinforced. Thus I write weekly stories as a sounding board of who we are, who we can become and what is expected of our behaviour. I also believe that if the Flaman leadership team becomes this change we wish to see; our values will have faces for the rest of organization to aspire to and our values will be so much more than: What is Making things better? Words. What are words?…Air.