Thursday 29 November 2007

Please read the house rules before entering

We recently explored the 3 big questions: Why, how and where? As in, why does a company exist? How does it exist? And, where is it going? Purpose describes why a company exists, ie, what a company actually does. Values describe how a company actually lives its purpose. Values can be thought of as the house rules of an organisation - values define the way that you operate.

A successful company continues to live its purpose by a set of values that are rock solid. These values make up the "how" part in the three questions. How defines the behaviour and attitude of a company’s people. There is no universal accepted set of correct core values. You discover "how" by looking within. You cannot fake values. You either have them or you don’t. Values are not open to change – they must stand the test of time.

A company typically will try to articulate about five things that it holds sacred. At Internet Solutions we believe in professionalism, customer service, integrity, empowerment and fun as our core values. We strive always to be professional, both internally and externally. We endeavour to be customer focused, always acting with integrity. We attempt to empower our staff by listening and by sharing. And we try to work hard and play hard. And we always stand firm in our beliefs, never compromising what we represent, and never violating our integrity. We are very passionate about our company and what it stands for. Our intense belief in our value system and our purpose is what drives this passion.

Like many companies today, the organisation I work for is largely a people business. It is about people sharing ideas with people, it is about people proposing solutions to people, and it is about people working together. It is about relationships. We practice professional behaviour at all times, both internally with staff, and externally with customers. And we always strive for win-win relationships.

I have learnt who works for whom in our organisation. Whenever someone joins our company I have to work harder and listen more. I want all of the people who come on board to win. If they win, I win. It is that simple. And for them to win they need to be empowered. Their ideas need to be heard. And they need to make a difference. My job is to make sure that they can make a huge difference.

Products and services evolve over time, leaders pass away, markets change, new technologies emerge, and strategies come and go, but our values remain the same. A company’s value system is the glue that binds all the people together. And there is no set of right or wrong values. You discover values by introspection. A company should never change its value system in response to market changes but, rather, it should change markets if necessary. It must always remain true to its core values. Again, your values should be authentic; you can put this to the test by asking: if you got out of bed tomorrow and were financially independent, would you continue to hold those values as sacred as the day before? Can you see those values being as valid for you well into the future as they are today?

Making money or maximising shareholder wealth is always the grey, uninspiring, off-the-shelf mission statement that will be heard in those circles where a core purpose has not been identified. We could make money in our organisation by selling people technology they don’t really need. But this would violate our purpose and it certainly would contradict our value system. It would not be in the best interests of our stakeholders. The end users would not win in this case, and ultimately, neither would we. Trust is the fundamental building block in life, and it is needed to build any win-win relationship. The more we are true to our mission, the more people will trust us to help them well into the future. The more we make a positive difference to people’s lives, the more all of our stakeholders will win. That is what win-win is all about. And this should serve to guide any value system.

Our company’s values may only be meaningful to the people within our organisation, and there is nothing right or wrong about that. If someone does not agree with our code of conduct then they may decide not to join our organisation. You cannot force values onto people. Values are something you feel and hold sacred. You find them inside of you. If you don’t believe that customer service is a value, for example, then you may choose to work in an organisation where customers are not part of the day to day modus operandi. Sony, for example, does not view customers as central to its core value system. And this makes sense when you think about it: when was the last time you bought something from Sony directly? You didn’t. You buy products from consumer goods stores. Sony does not deal with you directly. And perhaps that way of thinking is what you believe. Either way, there is no right or wrong here. It is what you genuinely believe deep down that is fundamental.

You never want anyone to undermine what you stand for and you always want to retain your value system. So, if people within a company do not fit in, then let nature run its course. People who share the same value system and purpose often do not necessarily all look or think the same. Artists and talent come in all shapes and sizes. A company is a world filled with diversity and with different viewpoints and ideas.

The people within a company need to commit to the organisation over the long term and a well defined value system can help in defining who is in and who is out. A clearly articulated value system attracts to an organisation people who buy into the company’s ways of thinking, and conversely, it will repel those people who do not agree. You cannot make people believe in something. They either do or they don’t. And if they choose to leave because they find that they are incompatible with the company’s core ideology, then welcome that outcome.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker