At the majority of companies I’ve seen, values statements are tired and irrelevant to most employees. Almost universally, these core values lack any unique personality and are generally indistinguishable from many other organizations – you could swap out the name at the top of the page and not notice.
Usually, these values statements were developed by a senior team at some unknown date in the past and have been inconsistently acted upon since they were created. Over time, they’ve become dusty posters on conference room walls and in the worst cases, they elicit eye rolling and ridicule.
This is a huge miss with how important values can be to culture and to results.
What Values Can Mean
For organizations that create and act upon their values in an aligned fashion, values set the standards for how employees act and help drive key decisions. The resulting behaviors have a significant impact on shaping culture and in turn, on how customers and partners experience the organization.
As Jim Collins found in all the research that went into his seminal book Good to Great, “core values are essential for enduring greatness.” Interestingly, Collins went on to say that “the point is not what core values you have, but that you have core values at all, that you know what they are, that you build them explicitly into the organization, and that you preserve them over time.”
Values Driven Results
Many of the most successful and admired companies have their values front and center in everything they do.
Johnson & Johnson
For example, Johnson & Johnson is the extraordinarily rare company that has grown and succeeded for more than 100 years. This year marks the 130th anniversary of the company’s founding and J & J remains a pillar of the Dow Jones index with more than $70 Billion in annual sales. Just before going public in 1943, they developed their credo values which have guided the company’s behavior ever since. Johnson & Johnson takes its credo so seriously that it is literally carved in stone in its lobby. That’s commitment.
Notably, J&J’s response to the Tylenol Murders in 1982 was driven by their credo value of putting consumers first. At the time, Tylenol accounted for nearly 20% of corporate profits and the decision to pull the product off the shelves nationwide and redesign the packaging cost more than $100 Million. As described in a NY Times article, the handling of this crisis made the company a corporate hero and set the standard for product recalls that resonates to this day.
By contrast, Rackspace has only been in business for 18 years, but has quickly grown to be a $2 Billion company with a renowned culture. Within a year of its founding, the company coined the term “Fanatical Support” to characterize its customer service philosophy. A few years later, this was woven together with a handful of other similar tenets to become the company’s core values.
The company leverages its values in its marketing as well as in its recruiting and in rewarding its employees. They award a Customer Service Fanatic straight jacket to employees who exemplify this value and have dozens of videos on their website (like the one below) dramatizing their values in action.
When you start a business to sell a product that nearly anyone else can sell, you better find a way to stand out. Zappos started in 1999 as an online shoe store and from very early on, the company has seen its culture as its core competitive advantage. To drive the culture, Zappos created unique and memorable values.
From the hiring process through to every day work, the Zappos team lives and breathes their values in a very visible way. The first of their values is “Deliver Wow Through Service.” Stories abound about amazing customer experiences and the enthusiasm of the Zappos team. One story that got a great deal of publicity was a nearly 10-hour customer service call – that certainly qualifies as a “wow.”
With its unmatched service as a key competitive differentiator, Zappos grew from $0 to over $1 Billion in sales in its first ten years and attracted a very lucrative acquisition by Amazon.com. For a taste of the culture that these values have helped to create, check out the video below.
Putting the Value Back in Values
As Jim Collins research shows, living core values is one of the key factors that differentiates great companies from more run-of-the-mill competitors.
In today’s era of disengaged employees and corporate ethical lapses, establishing and exemplifying strong values provides sustained energy for your team and your customers.
If you’d like to tap into the energy that meaningful values can create, let’s talk.
Soon I’ll be publishing a follow-up article on how to create meaningful values. Stay tuned.
For Dave, business growth is built by energizing the relationships vital to success. Over the past 20+ years – first in Silicon Valley and more recently on the East Coast – Dave has worked with leading companies and brands to design futures worth fighting for. He conceived and developed the ubiquitous VeriSign Secure Site Seal (viewed over a billion times each day), helped grow several start-ups to successful IPOs and acquisitions, and as the co-Founder and partner at Fathom, has worked with dozens of clients to bring meaning to their brands and engagement to their culture. Dave can be reached at fathom.net.
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