LAST WEEK I gave some perspectives on branding your values-based business.  My good buddy Hugh offered up a challenging question that I think is worthy of more exploration.

His question is around the values of your company versus the values employees hold as an individuals.

When you started out as a one-person company, it probably wasn’t too hard.  Perhaps your company’s attitude toward great customer service was built upon your personal belief that every person should be valued, appreciated, and respected.

But notice that the two views aren’t exactly the same.  If your business strives to a wonderful customer experience, that could also be built on a belief that customer satisfaction results in repeat customers and great referrals, which results in more money.  And in fact, that’s typically the way business logic works.

Or your personal respect for your fellow man might lead you to give away 25% of your products to the needy – which is a significantly different conclusion than just focusing on great customer service.

You get to choose!

So to Hugh’s point:

It becomes more problematic to express a values-based brand message unless everyone in the company is unified about what those values are and buy into them as individuals.

He’s absolutely right.  The degree to which your business – ANY business – can hold true to its set of values depends on how aligned people are.  When you’re talking about DEEP values of the company, then you’re reinforced by – or in conflict with – peoples’ deep personal values.

Let’s stick to that example of outstanding customer service.  You just hired a new salesperson, and you start to realize that they don’t really care all that much about the customer experience.  After all, their job isn’t to deliver the product, it’s to bring new customers in the door.  So they’re bringing in people who won’t necessarily be pleased by what they receive.

There’s several interesting approaches you might take in this situation:

  1. You can dismiss the salesperson: “Get with the program, or get out of here.”  After all, there’s clearly some conflict with their personal values, which are going to be hard to change – right?
  2. You might treat it as an education problem.  Put this person through more specific training, making sure you stress this person’s role in the contributing to customer happiness at the end of the transaction.
  3. You can work on it as a job-definition and rewards issue.  It would seem that you’re not rewarding this person for bringing in the RIGHT customers, just bringing in MORE.  Are you measuring the right things?
  4. You might take it as a systemic challenge, that you haven’t defined a working organization in which everyone is focused on the right issues.  If this really is one of your top priorities, maybe it’s important enough that EVERY person in the company understands and is energized by the contribution they make personally.

What’s the right answer?  Well, realistically, probably a combination of all these.  But I will point out that if you quickly jump to the first solution without thinking about the others, there’s an awfully good chance that you’re going to hire a replacement who will experience the same problem.  By all means, strive to hire employees who share the values of the company.  But it’s never perfect, because we’re all human.

Hugh also pointed to the difficulty in articulating deep values.  Fair enough, and I should talk about that more in the future.  But for the moment, let’s just acknowledging that deep values are much less powerful if they’re not articulated.

If it’s important, you have to SAY it.  Repeatedly.  Consistently.  And it has to be the foundation for how you ACT, otherwise it’s just empty words.