Competitive Advantage and Tough Choices...
Let me skip right ahead and say, yes, I'm once again talking about values, but read on - or listen in - as there's a couple of key ideas here...
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In today's over-supplied world, appearing unique to our customers and prospects is all the harder.
One of the most overlooked advantages - and by the way one that will probably remain a key differentiator for years to come - is the creation of the optimal work environment for your team: your culture.
The actual product you supply (your "what") may, in essence look very similar to someone else's, but the way you deliver it (your "how") can be completely unique thanks to your culture.
One of the most important tools you can use to create that great working environment is of course your agreed set of values.
I had the pleasure of visiting a small-loan provider recently and was blown away by how they did what they did. To some extent, one loan is very much like another, but the vigorous adherence to a strong set of values allowed them to deliver for, and service their clients like no other. It's no surprise that they are a leader in their field.
Values lead to a strong sense of culture which trumps strategy any day. Staff are happy and proud to be part of the company which means - surprise surprise - the work gets done all the more effectively. Without a solid culture to back it up, even a great strategy will break down sooner or later.
But what about those hard decisions...?
Yes, building a great place to work relies on culture. Culture is derived in large part from a set of clear and "lived" values. However...what happens when you are between a "rock and a hard place" and you have to make a difficult decision?
Some decisions will mean upholding one of your values but violating another. Life is sometimes like that!
What if you had to choose between firing someone for sharing some views in public, but uphold your value of free speech?
What if you had to choose between disciplining someone for costing the company money in a failed idea, but maintain the value of thinking up original solutions?
What if you had to choose between attending an important family occasion and losing your job for missing a deadline?
There are many more which life can throw at you. So...there is another step in applying your values.
Your Order of Values
To help us in those tough situations there is a need to rank-order our values to help us make a decision we can live with. Here's one of my favourite examples...
It's 1995 and Nelson Mandela has recently been elected President of South Africa. Instead of seeking revenge on the white minority that previously ruled the nation under the apartheid regime, he sought to forgive and work with them: retaining many of them in their previous positions at the presidential palace. This did not sit well with his own family members and his wife and daughters separated from him. In a quote about this he said that "my family is fourty two million people..."
Now, you would think that key values for any man - even a president - would include his family, but for Mandela, they were outranked by his value of becoming a united nation. Tough call, but when we rank our values in order of importance this can help us in the most difficult of situations.
A key advantage today is your culture, now more than ever before. So may successful companies have not been able to be emulated because others have not been able to duplicate this key element. The cornerstone for your culture is your values.
We need to rank-order them to get us out of tight spots. There may be gut wrenching decisions we have to take, but our ordered playbook can come to our aid and we can live with what we decide.