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Updated: March 7, 2011 15:56 IST

Craft the culture that connects your people

D. Murali
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How much time would it take for a company to determine its new values and behaviours for a culture change? It can be done within two days, proves the example of Juniper Networks, narrated by Ann Rhoades in ‘Built on Values: Creating an enviable culture that outperforms the competition’ (www.josseybass.com).

A team to work on values

The author recounts how, in October 2009, the company’s leaders decided that they wanted the company to truly live its vision – the promise to ‘connect everything, empower everyone’ – but they knew it was going to be difficult to keep everyone moving in the same direction, enthusiastically, unless changes were made to the company’s culture.

“It was decided that twenty-two employees from around the world would make up the team to work on values at Juniper, including young engineers who were new but brilliant, long-time employees (who were old but brilliant), the founders, the senior executives, and the new CEO. A Values Workout session was scheduled at the company’s Sunnyvale training facility…”

Members of the Values Team should be top players from all levels of the organisation, especially the front line, the author advises. She insists that the team should have no fewer than five and no more than thirty people, no matter how large your company is. “Go both deep and wide when making the appointments to this team. It is vital that A Players from every level are asked to participate, from senior management to the most entry-level person.”

Meet the ‘A Players’

The best of the best employees – the elite ones – are your A Players, the book informs. “The best players, no matter their age, look for companies whose values match their own and where they look forward to going to work every morning. But those rewarding and satisfying jobs are few and far between, even for them. In other words, you are looking for A Players, and they are, potentially, looking for a company like the one you aspire to create.”

A simple definition of A Players that Rhoades offers is that they are the people in your company whose skills and passions are well matched to their jobs, regardless of what their jobs may be; and that they are the people who, through their behaviours, display the values of your organisation daily.

Stating that A Players are required at every level of the organisation, she mentions the example of JetBlue and Southwest, where baggage handlers take pride in the job they do and are obsessive about making sure the bags are handled carefully and without mistakes.

Right fit

There is no ‘right’ culture; there is only right fit, notes the intro. Defining the right fit is a process of determining what values are important to your organisation’s success and committing to them, elaborates Rhoades. You must then develop a plan for how people should behave based on those values and put it into practice throughout your organisation, she guides. “Great cultures can’t be replicated or copied; you must launch your own, based on values you and your people determine are best for your organisation.”

The book lists a few important indicators of missing ‘fit’ – such as that the company is being outperformed in its category, it has high turnover in key positions, its employee and customer surveys are stubbornly low, financial performance is shaky or declining. More often than not, these issues are the result of an ailing culture, and by changing the culture you fix the problem, counsels Rhoades. You should also consider a culture change if you just want to go from good to great, she adds.

The workout

As for the two-day workout, described in the book, it gets the team to define the values (at most seven) that are vital to the organisation and to decide which behaviours will give the most meaning to those values. Some of the ‘starter’ questions may startle you – ‘Do employees live our company’s stated values? Do these values represent what we are today? Are the meanings of the values clear? Do our leaders support the values? Do our current values drive decisions made in our organisation? Has our organisation assigned specific behaviours to the values? Are our values integrated into the hiring, review, and reward process? Are our people willing to fire an employee who does not live by the values?’

Coming up with working definitions of each value, and determining behaviours that exemplify the values are among other steps in the workout. Good organisational values are typically very similar to good personal values, Rhoades reminds. She explains, for example, how ‘integrity’ in personal life might mean telling the truth at all times or being candid with people even in difficult situations, while in a similar fashion the corporate value of integrity could mean demonstrating honesty, trust, and mutual respect, and never compromising values for short-term results.

Two core values

In the case of Juniper, the workout yielded two core values, viz. ‘achievement’ and ‘encouraging,’ the author reports. She also informs that the ‘macro-level behaviours’ associated with ‘achievement’ were about taking on challenging tasks, pursuing a standard of excellence, working for the sense of accomplishment, taking moderate risks, openly showing enthusiasm, and knowing the business.

And ‘encouraging’ meant showing concerns for the needs of others, resolving conflicts constructively, helping others to grow and develop, giving positive rewards to others, and encouraging others.

Behaviours at the macro level are the minimum expectations for employees who are living the values, clarifies the author. She underlines how these definitions hold all employees accountable for the same behaviour, which, in turn, creates a culture based on these values and gives a common base from which to grow towards a ‘wow state’ and consistent performance.

Publish the draft

What you have after the workout is only the first draft of your Values Blueprint, the author instructs. Communicate this list of values and associated behaviours to the people in your organisation for comment, along with a thank-you, by name, to Values Workout team members, she says. “Don’t be afraid of being inundated with suggestions. If your values team has done a good job during the workout, the draft will express many of the values your people already care about.”

If you touch most of your people during this vetting process, you will engage them in the process and get the buy-in you need for the implementation stage, Rhoades recommends. “Pretty soon word spreads throughout the company that something very different is afoot. Plus, you’ll soon figure out whether you missed anything important, because if you did, people will tell you about it, repeatedly.”

How did it go in Juniper, which showed the values draft to 330 people at all levels of the organisation and all geographical areas, or about 5 per cent of total employees? The answer is captured in a quote of Steven Rice, executive vice president of human resources, thus: “We walked people through the business strategy, brand personality and the new Juniper Way, value by value, behaviour by behaviour. And they were honoured to be part of this process, they were very engaged and, for some, it was a very emotional experience…”

A book that presents a template worth trying out for a total makeover going right into the core of your organisation.

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Tailpiece

“The only two variables I need to plug into my new ‘election speech writing’ software are…”

“The name of the constituency and…”

“The duration of the speech!”

**

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