Keeping Your Values Relevant During Transformation and Growth
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Episode 32 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio, Episode 32: Keeping Your Values Relevant During Transformation And Growth.
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth. On the web at www.businessadvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated, and right with me is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi, Pam. I am delighted to be here again with you today doing Growth Igniters Radio. To remind first time listeners − our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration and immediately useful ideas for leaders to take themselves and their companies to the next level of success. So Pam, what are we looking at today?
Pam Harper: How to keep your values relevant as your company transforms and grows.
Scott Harper: Okay.
Pam Harper: At their best, formally stated, written down, documented values − to me, they accelerate decision making because they clarify the guiding principles and standards of any company, from the very smallest companies all the way through the multi-billion dollar companies. Of course, they are important for engagement as well − employee engagement − but the thing is that as a company transforms and grows, those founding values − the original values that are reflected in the culture − they inevitably transform as well.
The challenge is that oftentimes we miss it, unless there’s some kind of a dramatic event like merger and acquisition or new leadership. It’s really easy to overlook or completely underestimate the impact that these transforming values all have. So it seems relevant to talk about how to keep your values relevant as your company transforms and grows.
Scott Harper: Sure, that make sense. The challenge is we have these values − the written ones don’t change − but remember last time we spoke with John Guaspari, and he have defined values as “what’s really important around here.” When what really happens gets out of sync with what is written down − that unfortunately can lead sometimes to cynicism, disengagement, and distrust − and that has real top and bottom line effects on what goes on in the company.
So Pam, why do company values have to transform over time?
Pam Harper: If you think about it, there are few reasons.
Scott Harper: Okay.
Pam Harper: Number one: inevitably, as new people come in to a company, what happens is that they come in complete with their own perceptions, their own values − and no matter how much of a cultural fit you try to get when you’re hiring, people still have different ways of looking at the world.
Scott Harper: Sure.
Pam Harper: That’s one.
Scott Harper: Okay.
Pam Harper: Another is that companies inevitably must respond to the ever changing business environment. Think about this. A good example perhaps a number of our listeners can remember the HP Way. The HP Way had a lot of values that went with it.
Scott Harper: It did, and people were very attached to it and they invoked it all the time, and customers of HP felt secure that the HP Way would safeguard quality and everything that Hewlett-Packard did for them.
Pam Harper: That’s right. Now, HP has evolved over time. They’ve acquired a number of companies. They have had leadership changes. The original HP Way is not exactly the same anymore.
Scott Harper: That’s true.
Pam Harper: Now, are there certain aspects of it of the original values that are there? Sure there are, but a lot of the values have inevitably changed due to needs at times to focus more on profitability, or looking at the types of customers that they were starting to focus on.
Scott Harper: Even what they do in the business. That’s true, and in fact the written statement of the HP Way has evolved over time.
Pam Harper: There are other companies. I mean, this is just one example.
Scott Harper: Right.
Pam Harper: It’s important to recognize it. What’s interesting is that we can get trapped into thinking that the company that we were when we first started out and the values that we had then are those values that we still have today.
Scott Harper: What drives the change? You’ve got changing expectations − as you said the employees for instance have transforming ideas of what is it that a company should be doing, how should they value us.
Pam Harper: How they should also go about the work, for example, as the company scales. We’re talking for scaling from entrepreneurial to mid market, Mid market to large, and to very large. There are different ways of doing things inevitably that must happen. What are the values? One value I remember you talking about is one company that had a value of getting things done through relationships.
Scott Harper: Absolutely.
Pam Harper: It was actually something that was written down, I believe.
Scott Harper: It was written down. “We speak face to face and we have a relationship driven culture.”
Pam Harper: How does this square with today’s world where you’ve got people who are tweeting and texting and in fact …
Scott Harper: …We have work forces and teams that are spread out all over the place…
Pam Harper: Exactly.
Scott Harper: …whether it’s all over the world or just in different facilities and we have to recognize with this company that had this value of “we have face to face; we are a relationship driven company” is they had gotten larger, and it was much more difficult to form those relationships. They didn’t have a lot of stuff written down, and new people coming in were left scratching their heads and going, “Yeah, it’s a relationship driven company, but where’s my relationship? I don’t know how to get things done.”
Pam Harper: It confuses people.
Scott Harper: It really can.
Pam Harper: Here we’re talking about engagement − we’re talking about how to get things done, and it’s a value. People talk about that, and they sometimes get very jaded. You’ve got the generic values, but the fact is I’ve worked with enough companies over time to know that the people who put together the values originally …They really value the values. But it just is the nature of things that the further away you get from the people who create the values − the official values we’re talking about − it’s harder to translate that.
Scott Harper: It is, especially if they are done in short hand. Remember, we walked into a company not that long ago and we walked through the facility − a very nice facility − and they had, to their credit, they had values up on the wall − but they were one word, like “passion,” “innovation.”
Pam Harper: It was a shorthand for them.
Scott Harper: Yeah.
Pam Harper: It meant something in the context of the company.
Scott Harper: Yes. But it has to be constantly translated.
Pam Harper: Exactly.
I remember going into a store once. − this was a printer − where there was a big sign − talking about signs − it was a big sign over the counter, and it said, “We care. That’s what makes the difference.”
Scott Harper: Okay…
Pam Harper: That’s fine, except for the person who was standing at the counter was talking on the phone. He was absent-mindedly working with the customers, and there was this long line. Did I feel cared about? No.
Of course we’re talking about negative examples here, and there are plenty of positive examples − so in the course of this episode we’re going to talk more about what it is, and how we can make these values stay relevant. How we can create and continue to create relevant values as the company transforms and grows.
Scott Harper: − That drive real behavior and real action to create real value for the company.
Pam Harper: Exactly. In the next segment we’re going to come back and talk about how you detect that disconnect, and what are you going to do about it. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You’re listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. On the web at www.businessadvance.com. We enable successful companies to accelerate to their next level of innovation and growth.
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Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Today, Scott and I are talking about how to keep your company’s values relevant as your business environment changes and your company transforms and grows. I want to add that on the episode page for episode 32 of Growth Igniters Radio there is going to also be an article that we wrote that talks about this. Go to growthigniters.com, and select episode 32.
Scott Harper: Very good. Now, Pam let’s talk a little bit about how leaders can tell if their values really are relevant to their employees, to their customers, and other stakeholders. It really comes down to detecting if there’s a gap that’s starting to form. This is not always easy to find. It’s not always easy to see because we’re in our own system. It’s like that boiling frog metaphor, which is awful.
Pam Harper: Boiling frog?
Scott Harper: Boiling frog metaphor. If you put a frog in hot water it will jump right out. But if you put a frog in cold water and slowly heat it, so the saying goes, the frog won’t notice.
Pam Harper: Ever the scientist.
Scott Harper: What can I say? No frogs were harmed in the making of this episode.
Pam Harper: Thank goodness.
Scott Harper: That’s frog safety.
Pam Harper: Well, I like to think of it as being a detective.
Scott Harper: Okay…
Pam Harper: We’ve talked about detecting; you really literally have to put on the mindset of being a detective, because like you said − you’re in your own system. You can’t necessarily see it easily. If you know some of the guidelines [for detecting values in practice, it can help.] And that’s what I’ve spent time over the years writing about.
Scott Harper: And doing of course.
Pam Harper: Both in my book and doing of course. Let’s talk about a few of them.
Scott Harper: Sure.
Pam Harper: One of the things that I think is so easy to begin to see this, is with some of the written policies and practices and procedures. Now, first of all, if some of this sounds like signs of culture, that’s because values really are the underpinnings of culture.
Scott Harper: Culture is what? − it’s about value, beliefs and practices.
Pam Harper: Value, beliefs and practices, right?
Scott Harper: What people really do.
Pam Harper: Exactly. When we’re talking about values we’re talking about culture. Maybe that makes it easier for some people. Anyway, the written policies and practices and procedures − so for example, are our employees behaving in a way that demonstrates that they see the particular value as relevant? I remember just recently going to Nordstrom, and I had to return a pair of shoes. I went up to the person − I didn’t even have the receipt and then you reminded me that Nordstrom doesn’t expect a receipt.
I tried it − and it was stunning, but the person who was there very quickly − I didn’t know whether he was a manager or he wasn’t a manager − he took the shoes, he said, “Fine. We wouldn’t want you to wear them if they are hurting your feet.” This is an example − yes it’s of customer service, but the fact is that here was an employee that was behaving consistent with that value. [He obviously saw that value as relevant.]
Scott Harper: It was written down, and you saw a consistent behavior.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen counter-examples − companies where sometimes a value was written down, like that printer −”We care” − but the behavior doesn’t mirror that.
Pam Harper: You really have to look at the behavior of the employees. Really not the person − that’s a management issue − but of the employees and the organization as a whole. On the whole, are the policies being upheld? I used to say − when I was working within corporate I’d say, “It’s always time to change the policy when 40% of the time you’re starting to see exceptions to the rule.” That’s probably too high at the end of the day, but if you have to make exceptions to a policy that often, that policy doesn’t mean anything. The policy again, is a reflection of a value.
Scott Harper: Now, that’s one side, where you say what this value that as it’s written down doesn’t reflect what’s really important or happening around here. On the other hand, you alluded to this just a moment ago − if people are not behaving according to the values as the leaders believe and the written down and promote, that’s not necessarily a sign that the value statement has to change, or the policy has to change.
Pam Harper: That’s right.
Scott Harper: It could be a management …
Pam Harper: It could be a management or leadership issue. That’s why you have to look beyond this one thing.
Scott Harper: Sure.
Pam Harper: This is just one example. In fact there are number of examples, and the article I’m talking about presents a few others. Another one to look at is incentives and rewards. For example, who is getting promoted? Is it the person that actually practices diversity and inclusion, or is it the person who doesn’t? People see this kind of habit. Now, if it’s one time again one time is one time although even one time …
Scott Harper: For some things it’s just not acceptable.
Pam Harper: … it is not enough. Right. If you look at, is this person a team player? Is the person known to hoard information resources? When you start seeing this [kind of gap between what is stated and what is done,] you can begin to say, “Why is it happening? Why is it happening?” There are a lot of reasons.
Scott Harper: You don’t really want to change the values to say, “We want loose cannons to go out there and create havoc.” Even though those cannons might be producing a lot of business.
Pam Harper: You’ve got your formal values and then you’ve got what really happens and that was …
Scott Harper: When someone knows they are out of sync what do you do?
Pam Harper: We’re going to talk about that, but I want to talk about one more place to look for gaps between stated values and what is really happening. That would be customs − customs in a company. And again, we think about the customs as elements of culture. Let’s say that you are in a company and you’re the leader − you’ve written down that you value work-life balance. That’s very popular, and it’s a wonderful thing to say and we want to attract and retain talent. Right?
Scott Harper: Of course, right.
Pam Harper: What if your actual experience is that employees are routinely working beyond the official hours, or they are working on weekends − and there are a lot of companies out there that do this.
Scott Harper: Right. And sometimes it’s not because someone is cracking the whip, it’s because they are jazzed, they are engaged. We see this a lot in startups especially, and in mid market companies that are growing like crazy.
Pam Harper: Exactly.
Scott Harper: You’ve got these people who are just spending huge amounts of effort, and yet you’ve got this value statement work-life balance. Someone you might go “Huh?”
Pam Harper: Right, you have to think about how is that [stated value] relevant. Now of course, some people talk about aspirational values versus the core values − “we know that that’s not going on here because that’s an aspirational value.” My feeling is “do or don’t do, there is no try.” Isn’t that from Star Wars?
Scott Harper: Yeah, you’re quoting Yoda from Star Wars. Wow.
Pam Harper: It’s coming out, the movie.
Scott Harper: Episode seven.
Pam Harper: Right. Do or don’t do. There is no try. It’s confusing when you say “these are our values and we aspire to them” when it definitely is not going on.
Scott Harper: Okay.
Pam Harper: I believe for instance that if you’re not there yet you could have a value that’s aspirational by writing it in a way that would say, for instance, “We strive to increase the diversity in our company.”
Scott Harper: Or “We strive to increase work-life balance as much as possible.”
Pam Harper: Ever increasing. Ever increasing.
Scott Harper: Right. When what’s happening isn’t congruent with what the value statements are, people can perceive that the value is not relevant, and unfortunately they can throw everything out. “None of these values are relevant.”
Pam Harper: People can get a little dramatic about it. One of the other things I want to mention is the need to use a variety of sources [for evaluating the match of stated values and real behavior]. I want to emphasis that in terms of using observation, interviews, focus groups, surveys and the like to gain these perceptions, because no one way of getting this information is enough all by itself.
Scott Harper: That’s true.
Pam Harper: I remember going into one company and the CEO had conducted a 360 degree survey before I came in. He got the feedback, and people were saying a lot of things. His response was “these people are whiners.” That was his initial response − because it hurt, because he couldn’t see it.
Scott Harper: It didn’t give answers.
Pam Harper: It didn’t give answers, [so I helped them get more information,] and eventually he was able to come around and see it, and they made amazing strides. but the thing that’s more important here is that although at times it could seem as though people are wrong about the feedback they give, even mistaken perceptions trigger real action.
Scott Harper: That’s true.
Pam Harper: You have to care what people are saying, because chances are [they are acting in line with what they’re saying].
With that, we’re going to take another quick break, and when we come back we’re going to continue our conversation about keeping values relevant as your company transforms and grows − some practical tips. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: Are you thinking that it’s time for you and your company to accelerate to your next level of growth and profitability? If so, contact us today to find out how we can partner with you and your team to create a highly customized powerful Growth Igniters Executive Retreat. Client results have included accelerated leadership transition, increased commitment and alignment on strategy and values, and much more. Go to www.growthignitersradio.com, click “contact us” at the bottom of the page, and we’ll get back to you to discuss options for helping you achieve your most important goals.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I have been talking about ways to keep those values relevant as your company transforms and grows. Just to remind you − we do have an article that talks more about this on the episode 32 page at www.growthignitersradio.com.
Scott Harper: Very good. Pam, we’ve been talking about the concepts; now let’s get practical. Let’s talk about some immediately actionable steps that our listeners can take to get a feeling for how they can keep gaps between values and behavior in the company from growing and making all their values seem irrelevant.
Pam Harper: Okay. One of the things that we’ve talked about certainly is keeping it real.
Scott Harper: Yes.
Pam Harper: The fact that every value should somehow have a way of being demonstrated. Even if it’s you’re not there yet, show how you’re continuing to strive, because that is a value of itself. Another way to demonstrate values is frequency of incorporating discussions about values in to real time situations. I know one company that actually includes in their regular meetings a five minute section on their agenda talking about a real-time situation that they have and how they incorporate their values into addressing this.
Scott Harper: That make sense. Essentially, what I hear you saying is that the more that everyone in the company, from the top one down can really articulate what the values look like in action, in behavior − that just like the Nordstrom example, “We value our customers. We won’t hassle our customers when they need something from us. It turned out good in the end.” − The more concrete you can be about what these abstract ideas are, the more people are going to act on them and be consistent and be modeling. It’s absolutely important. “You’ll do as I say not as I do −” It doesn’t work if you’re trying to reinforce values.
Pam Harper: In fact, you bring up a good point. One of my favorite books, that we haven’t talked about yet is the book called Credibility by Kouzes and Posner. In that book, one of the things that they did is that they came up with a study, and they found that the most credible leaders were the ones that practice the value of “do what you say you will do.”
Scott Harper: Okay.
Pam Harper: Do what you say you will do. Whether it’s aspirational, or whether it’s a core value − that is a sacrosanct value − do what you say you will do.
Scott Harper: The more consistent it is, from leaders on down, the more people go, “I believe in that.” It’s going to inform decisions.
As an example, going back many years now, many people may or may not know that I actually used to work for Johnson and Johnson company. Before I joined them there was that terrible, terrible episode where someone put poison in Tylenol capsules. When I joined the company, although that incident had been 20 years or so before I joined, that was still part of the story of J&J. It was still part of the culture, and people said, “We made that decision; the leaders of that time made that decision based upon the values.” They said, “We have a Creedo in Johnson and Johnson.” It says, “We will protect our customers.” And they pulled every single bottle of Tylenol off the shelves. Nobody said, “What lot?” or anything like that. They pulled them all. That was driven by that value.
Pam Harper: That’s right. What’s important here also here is that you joined them well after that episode, and it it still informed a lot of your own actions and the actions of your colleagues.
Scott Harper: That’s right.
Pam Harper: In decision making. It’s not only in this case a way of governance, it’s also a way of attracting people, because there are something very exciting about a company that lives up to its values.
Scott Harper: When those slip, it can be very damaging to morale.
Pam Harper: People don’t realize it. I mean that takes us full circle; it can creep up on you. Almost nobody intends to ever go away from their values.
Scott Harper: No.
Pam Harper: It can happen for very understandable reasons, and it will happen for very understandable reasons, unless you’re making a consorted effort periodically. That’s my final piece of advice here: you have to come back to this on an ongoing basis. At least a few times a year, look for ways to audit − for lack of a better word − how those stated values are being exemplified in your everyday business, by all the levels − not just employees on the front line, not just leadership, not just middle management − but everybody including the board.
Scott Harper: When that happens, bang.– Relevant values. And they will drive decisions and drive behavior consistently year after year, even as the company is transforming and changing.
Pam Harper: Well said.
Scott Harper: Okay. Thanks for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, share on social media or find out about up coming episodes or even open a conversation with us, go to, growthignitersradio.com and select episode 32.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: and Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success, and leaving you with this question to think about:
Scott Harper: What will you do, starting today, to find out how relevant your value statements are to employees and other stakeholders?