When customers engage with your company and team members, they leave with an impression of what your business stands for and what its values are. If their impression is good, the leave with your product or service, too.
That important impression is created by how your team members treat customers and each other. If they treat others with respect and dignity, the impression is a positive one.
However, most small business leaders don't focus on values. They focus primarily, and often exclusively, on productivity and results. Results and profits are certainly important for any business. But if profits are your company's "reason for being," the work environment is competitive, not cooperative. That environment breeds distrust and selfishness, not respect and teamwork.
When my wife and I have dinner at our favorite restaurant, we experience team members' pride in their work, their team and their company. Team members relish the opportunity to provide great customer service. The food is excellent but our biggest impressions come from the wonderful treatment we get from team members. We feel respected and valued, which is not a common experience in restaurants today!
This restaurant is intentional about both performance and values. They focus equally on serving fabulous food and the experience they provide every customer. Team members know they are expected to be friendly, responsive and accurate in every interaction with customers and with their peers. They do it very well. We've never been disappointed in our experience or our meals.
You have favorite restaurants, coffee houses, gift shops, auto mechanics and such. It is likely that these terrific small businesses have discussed with team members what values they want demonstrated in every interaction. Their values may or may not be written down but leaders coach team members to model those values just the same.
The greatest influence on a team member's willingness to embrace desired values and behaviors is company leaders modeling those values, coaching those values and celebrating those values in others. Leaders must be positive role models and "champions" of the values and behaviors they want lived in their company's culture.
Leaders must live, communicate and reinforce the company's desired values and behaviors. A great example of small business owners reinforcing desired values can be found on the Farmers & Merchants Bank website. A recent post by the former bank president explained the bank's humility value. You might enjoy reading previous "declaration of beliefs" posts about their honesty, dedication, and service over self values.
There are three primary ways company values, embraced and lived by leaders and team members daily, build your business.
1. Employees who are trusted and respected treat each other and the company's customers with trust and respect. Employees are your first customers. If they feel trusted and respected by company leaders, they will treat your second customers, the consumer, with dignity and respect.
2. You differentiate your business from the competition when you values are demonstrated routinely. You create loyal customers being bold with what your company stands for, such as posting values and behaviors, asking for feedback about "did we demonstrate our values today? Let us know!" and the like. Loyal customers boost revenues and profits and are invaluable word-of-mouth marketers for your company.
3. A safe and inspiring work environment enables all team members to apply their knowledge and skills towards company goals, products and services, and customers. Team members will apply discretionary energy towards company goals only if they feel genuinely well cared for by the company and by company leaders.
In my company's culture change process, clients begin by formalizing their team's organizational constitution (purpose, values and behaviors, strategies, and goals). When they align practices to their organizational constitution, they consistently enjoy gains of 40 percent in employee engagement, 40 percent in customer service and 35 percent in profits, all within 18-24 months of culture refinement. You can not afford to not create clarity and alignment with values in your small business.