14 Jul 2015 20:33 IST

Define your core values if you want to make smart decisions

You can get extraordinary results if you articulate a vision of what you want to be

In my previous articles I talked about the importance of having a strategic planning process in place. In this one, I will touch upon the importance of defining, articulating and communicating one’s values across the organisation. Values that are lived by and become part of the organisational culture intentionally shape the actions and interactions of employees. The results then become revolutionary and go far beyond just creating a good organisational culture.

A recent study by Boston Research Group, found that only 3 per cent of those surveyed described their company’s values as a form of “self-governance.” When such a model defines an organisation’s activities, employees are guided by values that inspire everyone to align their actions around a common set of principles. This is a surprisingly low percentage, but in the people who did, this self-governance resulted in extraordinary performance. Possible proof that this will get wider acceptance in the years to come.

Past failures

In my experience, defining core values was one of the best things we did. We realised the importance of defining values from our past failed experience, where each of the partners and key employees were pulling the organisation in different directions. In any situation where we were confronted with a specific dilemma, we had no guide that would enable us to arrive at a decision acceptable to all.

Defining our values helped us avoid spending time in long discussions, and the decision was usually obvious. As the employees found us taking decisions that adhered to these defined values, they then felt empowered to take similar decisions themselves.

At Scope, we articulated our common values; these formed the basis of our decision-making. Our defined values confirmed our belief that the workplace should offer an environment that enabled both individual and organisational growth, not just in areas of work but in all facets of life as well. Our aim was to become better human beings and, in the process, have fun at the workplace.

The resultant core values were:

Ensuring client satisfaction

We were clear that this was of paramount importance and, come what may, we would do our best to ensure that the client got a fair deal. This translated to timely service and quality, committed consistently. This also translated to our investment in technology and client service personnel to ensure that we were in sync with our core values. But, most importantly, it also meant that, to us, client interests were sacrosanct.

Here’s an example of how it helped us in decision-making. We had a contract with one of our customers on a piece rate assuming a time to completion of 28 minutes per record. We also had an informal understanding with the customer that we would pass on some of the benefits resulting from the learning curve and had estimated that possibly this time would come down to 20 minutes per record over a period of the next few months.

We developed an algorithm that reduced the time to completion per record to seven minutes. Here was a decision problem, economic gains vs transparency with the client. Our debate on this was very short. We said we should live our values and ensure that we were fair with the client. We never regretted that decision for what we lost on revenues we more than made up for in client goodwill; and that resulted, over the years, in many times the revenue we gave up on that one occasion.

The second area that this value helped was in “innovating solutions” for our clients. Since client interests and satisfaction were of paramount importance and non-negotiable; we often innovated solutions that went far beyond what the client actually expected.

Congenial work culture

Our employees are our partners and they mean the world to us. Just as customers brought in the revenues, our employees helped us sustain and grow the business. For this we were convinced that we needed a culture that was “supportive’ and “family-oriented”.

Stress and undue pressure were not the best drivers of effort. We were convinced that knowledge workers had to be treated with dignity and respect, valued for their contributions and suggestions and, indeed, facilitated to do so. For who else would be better-placed to suggest more optimal ways of doing things than people on the job?

We thus built in mechanisms to ensure that we truly had a very congenial work culture; a corollary to this was the much lower than industry attrition rates (more of this in the chapter on HR). We had a number of initiatives for this such as:

Open office: where any employee could walk in to the office of the directors

Regular (once a week) open house with employees

Team outings

Annual Day celebrations, with the buildup spread over a few weeks

Counselling services

Scope Day celebrations

Culture of team-work and sharing. We encouraged people to share knowledge and experience and we found that most were in fact very happy to do so.

Striving for excellence

Knowledge workers: We were in a knowledge business. Knowledge businesses need a process where workers keep themselves continuously updated in domain related, skill-related and personality development areas.

At Scope, we tried to build such a learning organisation by building processes that facilitated knowledge-sharing across teams. We encouraged our employees to enrol for courses online as get additional qualifications in their area of operations or general ones. We built in a policy of sharing part of the costs after the employee was successful in whatever he or she attempted. Personal growth of all employees was thus a key value which we tried to emphasise.

Being responsible, ethical

In all of our endeavours we always tried to be good corporate citizens and tried to pay back to society what we could (given our size), whether it was in the nature of monetary resources (as was the case with many natural disasters to which we contributed both individually and as a company) or with respect to giving time off to employees to engage in activities that contributed to society.

In a knowledge business the culture of openness, learning and sharing/supporting is, in my opinion, key to success and this we encouraged and supported.

In conclusion, let me quote the words of Mahatma Gandhi

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.”

It pays for the founders of any company to start with firm beliefs and values, which will invariably permeate among the key employees.