I just got back from a recent trip to Japan with my family, our first time there. Having lived and traveled all over Eastern Asia, I was amazed at the difference. In Japan, people formed nice lines and politely waited for each other to cross the street. Metro rides were peaceful as mobile phones were turned off and nobody was talking on them. There was not a spot of trash on the street even though garbage bins were almost impossible to find.
This is very much the opposite of the experience you will find in many other areas of Eastern Asia. Where is the difference? It’s in the culture. It’s not about the laws or policies that are in place, it’s the beliefs people hold and how they act on them. The same goes for your organization and leaders set that tone for their teams and, in turn, for their customers. Over the years, I have visited many branches within the same organization and the difference can sometimes be night and day. This difference is usually a direct reflection of the leader at the different locations.
In Japan, people don’t keep the streets clean because they’ll get a fine for littering, they do it out of respect for the environment and others who use the same space. It’s a respect that their elders and their teachers have instilled from an early age. In the same way, highly engaged, high-performing teams do so because they find value in what they do, not because of a policy in place or a reward they’ll receive. That value is communicated by their leaders and their leaders live that message every day.
Creating an environment where people enjoy coming to work and where customers return to again and again is about building a culture defined by values. It’s done by inspiring your team to make a difference that has meaning to them and their world. Hitting KPIs, achieving sales targets, increasing quarterly earnings – these things are no more than indicators of what your team can achieve when they truly believe in what they are doing. It comes from knowing that their organization and the people that lead it always act with integrity and create a value-based company whose true purpose goes far beyond profit.
What culture exists in your workplace and how does it reflects the values held by yourself and your organization?
Like most businesses these days, your organization probably has a mission statement meant to inspire its employees. It’s part of every employee handbook and hanging on nice plaques around the office. It probably includes words like integrity, respect, authenticity, passion, and excellence. For far too many organizations, this mission statement is just something put in writing that nobody pays much mind to. How does your organization really define success? To find out, you need to look at what messages are sent on a regular basis and, more importantly, what actions are taken.
How often do you find yourself talking about your organization’s mission to your team? How often, instead, do you hear phrases like share-holder value, maximize profits, quarterly targets, or incentive-based bonus coming out of your mouth? If those words occur more regularly in your communications with your team than the ones in the mission statement, then that’s what your team will perceive as your real mission. And nothing is less inspiring than making more money for someone else just for the sake of making them richer.
Real leaders and organizations that truly want to inspire their employees don’t just pay lip-service to a mission statement, they live it each and every day. At every opportunity, they take a moment to remind their team of the mission and how they are individually contributing to making that positive difference. It’s brought up in meetings, emails, performance reviews, and one on ones. Your team wants to know how they contribute and what value they bring to themselves, each other, your customers, and the community. If they can see these, they’ll stay with you through thick and thin. If, on the other hand, the only motivation for an employee to stay with you is a bigger bonus or the next promotion, then they’ll leave you at the drop of a hat when a better offer for a larger bonus or quicker promotion comes along from somewhere else.
But it’s not just the messages you send, it’s the actions you take. Who gets the bonuses in your organization? Who gets promoted? Those actions show a companies true mission statement. If Jack got promoted for being top sales person even though he never helps his team, the rest of the employees understand that all their leader or the organization cares about is getting a sale and who cares how. As a leader, it’s essential to live your mission statement through your actions. Speak with authenticity, act with integrity, support your team, pursue excellence for its own sake. Basically, lead by example.
Once you do that, your team will follow you. And, even if others in your organization aren’t following suit quite yet, once they see the results you are driving through employee and customer satisfaction, they’ll start to pay attention and get the message. With constant pressure to drive results, it may not be easy to focus on your real mission over short term gains. But when you do, you will go home each night proud of the fact that you worked to make a real difference that sets an example for others to model.
This question is critical for determining both the way you interact with others within the organization as well as with the communities you operate in. Is success defined as being Number 1, as getting the biggest bonus, as getting the next promotion? If so, it’s time to re-envision your mission. The best leaders are the ones that work for others, not for themselves. They are the ones who strive to create a better life for their employees, their customers, and their environment. It’s also easy to fall into the trap laid out by hubris and become Number 1 by mudslinging those around you or gaming the system to make your numbers look better. But does any of that make a positive difference for your employees or your communities?
To be a truly inspiring leader that people clamor to work for and that truly makes a difference, you need to define success by making a positive difference in the lives of those you come into contact with. Maybe that means taking the high road and only saying good things about those around you, even when they don’t. Maybe that means slowing down to give your customers the best possible product or experience rather than lower quality by rushing it just to achieve target. What it definitely means is putting others before yourself. Help that team member get the next promotion. Take the time to make that customer’s day. Approve the extra budget expense to buy greener technology that creates less waste.
So today, take a step back and think about how you define success. Think about what interactions you’ll have with your team and what decisions you will make that will re-envision that definition or help you achieve it. Today, you truly have the power to make a positive difference in the lives of those around you. Let’s get to it.
Did you know that companies that promote volunteering have more engaged employees and are more likely to retain them? Did you know that creating a positive brand image through corporate citizenship initiatives attracts more customers and drives profits? Who the hell cares!
You shouldn’t be involved in your community because it drives your bottom-line. You should be involved in your community because your business is a part of it and it’s the right thing to do. You should be involved in your community because your business depends on that same community, whether it’s local or global, to survive. As your business grows, it also grows in wealth and influence, both of which can be used to make positive contributions to the very same employees and customers that got you where you are today. So today, show them some gratitude and become a part of business for a better world. Start a volunteer project, make a donation, raise awareness of an important social issue, or make the change to more eco-friendly materials. Tomorrow starts with you.