How can you make sure that you're living right and doing right in business?
If you’ve ever had a job where you didn’t feel as though you quite fit in with the company culture, or as though you’re out of sync with the way things are run, you may have unknowingly stumbled upon an inconsistency of values. A company’s values tell you their priorities, how they like to be treated, and more importantly what they stand for. As a leader, how can you implement values that everyone can get on board with?
Dina Dwyer-Owens is the Co-chair of the Dwyer Group, a billion-dollar organization with more than 2,800 franchisees around the world, operating under multiple service brands. You may have seen her when she appeared on the CBS hit TV show, Undercover Boss. Her book is Values, Inc.: How Incorporating Values Into Business And Life Can Change The World. I recently interviewed Dina for the LEADx Podcast, where we delved into her insight on the power of organizational and personal values. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: Tell us what's the big idea in your book?
Dina Dwyer-Owens: It's been said that 95% of the companies in North America do nothing with their values once they're written. Right? You go through this big strategic planning process. People spend a lot of money on those processes and then they fret over should we put ‘the’ or ‘and’ in the sentence? And then they go back and they do nothing with it. And I don't think, Kevin, it's because they don't want to lead with values. I think they don't know how to do it, how to make it part of their company’s DNA. The big idea at Dwyer is we're a franchise organization, so what does a franchisor do? We take what's most important in the business and we create systems around it so that those systems can be replicated. So that you can have success running one of our franchise businesses.
We did the same thing with our values. The big idea is don't put all this effort into thinking about what you care about, what you stand for and then walk away from it. Make it become a way of life for you and your organization. By creating a system at Dwyer, we gamified our values and when we first came up with these, what we call ‘Operationalized Values,’ because they're not just respect, integrity, customer focus, and having fun. They're specific standards for how we expect ourselves to operate and how we expect each other to operate.
What we did is we asked the team members to actually hold the management team accountable to leading with the values. We gave them a laminated card with the values. We said for the next 90 days, the game we're going to play is called the ‘Beep Game.’ Anytime you catch a management team member violating a value, we want your feedback. And the feedback came in the form of a simple beep. Literally, Kevin, you're walking down the hallway, if a team member heard you use profanity, for example, because one of our values is speaking calmly and respectfully without profanity or sarcasm, all the team member had to do was go beep. And hopefully, you didn't go, “Oh, crap,” and repeat what you said in the first place.
Kruse: Then you get a second beep.
Dwyer-Owens: That was the game we played, and what was amazing was how the employees loved the idea of catching us doing something wrong, but they really took it to heart and studied those values and for 90 days it was like the roadrunner was racing through our buildings because we got beeped so much. But that's how we got it cemented into the minds of our employees and we got their buy in, because they saw that we weren't good at it, but they saw that we were committed to getting better.
Kruse: Your organization must have an incredible culture of trust, because if it was a fear-based people would not feel comfortable beeping you. Does this sound right?
Dwyer-Owens: It is right, but it's years in the making. And it starts and ends with leadership. If the leadership is truly not committed and it's just all talk but nobody is really following through, then it will never work. Our team had to trust, as you said, they had to trust that we were committed to this. But they also had to recognize, and we had to be open about this, that we will never be perfect at this and we've been doing this almost 22 years now, Kevin. And we still make mistakes. In fact, you made me think of something. Not only do people beep each other, and we don't beep the way we did that first 90 days. First of all, we're much better at the values, but we're not playing the game all the time although anybody can beep. But our CEO, Mark Bidwell, just the other day we had an email exchange, there were a few of us on the email exchange. And he made a remark that he came back and said, “Oops, I think I just violated the code of values with that one.” And he beeped himself, basically.
Because when you get to know your values so well, it's amazing how you should hold yourself accountable, especially as leaders of the company. We should be the first ones to say, “Hey look. I'm sorry. I messed up on that one.”
Kruse: Do you have any other examples where a team leader might almost do something or say something that then gets caught by someone else?
Dwyer-Owens: One comes to mind quickly, and again it's easy to use this speaking calmly and respectfully without profanity or sarcasm example. We had an executive, who was in the hallway talking to another team member who used profanity. The gal who was delivering the mail that day beeped her and she flipped her off.
It was not what you would have hoped for, but she was having a bad day. But what ended up happening, Kevin, is we counseled her. We're all going to make mistakes, but you don't flip your employees off and yet a few months later she chose to leave the company, because she recognized this was not a good place for her because the rules didn't fit who she was. And she's really a fabulous lady. I'm sure she doesn't curse nearly as much as she used to after that. But we weren't a fit for each other anymore once she saw how serious we were going to be about implementing these values. But things happen every day. I mean, there are examples that happen daily around here.
Kruse: A great culture will show people whether or not it’s the right fit for them very quickly.
Dwyer-Owens: I remember Patrick Lencioni’s statement, “When properly practiced, values can actually inflict pain.” They can make some employees feel like outcasts and they can actually limit an organization’s strategic and operational freedom. It's interesting that you say that, Kevin, because this value stuff is not for the faint of heart. If you're a leader who is listening to this or somebody who wants to be a leader, you've got to recognize there is nothing easy about this, and it starts with you as the leader. You've got to be committed, because you're going to be under the magnifying glass.
Kruse: Have you faced a time where you weren't sure if you should let someone go or coach them? Or a business decision where you were stuck and said, “Let me reflect on our values for this”?
Dwyer-Owens: Actually, I've got two quick examples for you. One is as it relates to a strategic opportunity. And I brought this strategic opportunity to our CEO. I'm co-chairing the company now so our CEO is really running this business and has grown it beautifully, 100% in the last three years, Kevin. We're 36 years old so I think values are working out for us. But I presented an idea to him on an acquisition, and it's not one that we had not talked about in the past. But he said, “You know, I just don't think it aligns with our values.” He said, “I think what we would be able to do with a business like that could be compromising the way that we like to do business.”
I didn't agree with his perspective initially. And one of our values is everyone has their right to their own perspective, but what we do here is we challenge each other’s perspectives. I said, “Tell me more. Why do you think it would be conflicting, because I don't see it. I see that it's a great opportunity for referrals.” And he gave me some additional information and I said, “You know, you make a really good point there.” Here was an opportunity to buy a very good franchise company that in my mind was a great compliment to our current menu of services, but he reflected on it enough to convince me it wasn't the right thing for us to do.
Another quick example is telling on myself. As leaders, we got to be willing to admit mistakes, right? And boy do I have a lot to admit. But what I loved about that beep game is our employees were so committed that they actually came up with a value that I would have never thought of. And the value is never saying anything about anyone that we would not say to him or her. This falls under our category of ‘integrity.’ And there was a situation I was in last summer. And it's a professional situation where I happened to be on a special committee and observed some activities going on that made you wonder what was really going on with a couple of officers. And a few people brought to our attention that they thought there was more going on than should be going on, two married folks.
We had some discussion amongst this special committee group about that, and I walked away from that thinking never saying anything about anyone that we would not say to him or her. I could have justified it away, we were having the discussion, trying to be as factual as we could be because we were concerned about… Will they make decisions that may be inappropriate because there's something personal going on versus it just being what's best for this association? And I made the decision to call both of those individuals separately to apologize to them. They had no idea that I had talked about them. I just said, “Look. You know how I believe in our values at Dwyer, and I feel like I just violated a value last week. And this is what happened, and I owe you an apology. And you may not ever want to talk to me again. But I want to make sure that I own my mistake.” And they were gracious and accepting.
Kruse: You did the right thing and addressed it, but that had to have been a hard conversation.
Dwyer-Owens: Very hard. I don't know how bad I was shaking before I made the call, but I was shaking. But I did it with love and care and sincerity. It was my responsibility to own it, and it was really none of my business. I did have to look out for the association, but I felt so much better after I did it.
Kruse: What kind of advice would you give to a young professional?
Dwyer-Owens: First of all, I would say understand your values, and make sure you're working for a company that has alignment with your values. And the way that they can get clarity about their values, Kevin, for all of your listeners, I have a Create Your Culture workbook that they can download for free from my website at www.dinadwyerowens.com. And it has six simple steps for identifying your values, creating a mantra around your values, having very clear behaviors that are attached to your values so that you can measure that you're living up to them. And then having a tool for measuring via your team and your customers that you really are living up to them.
But don't join an organization that you know does not feel right to you, because what will happen is you may give into doing something less than you would allow yourself to do otherwise. And it's unfortunate, but some people get into those environments and they feel the pressure and they allow themselves to step down from being a ten and they might drop down to a six or a seven on the scale of quality in who they are as an individual. Know your values, that would be my number one piece of advice. And then work for an organization that's aligned with your values, they're out there. Go find them.
Kruse: What are some pieces of advice or secrets when it comes to leadership and management?
Dwyer-Owens: I don’t think you're going to be surprised by my answer. Know your values and keep them front and center. As the leader, the manager, your organization hopefully has clearly written values that you can implement and create a system around. That's the key. Any meeting of three or more people maybe make it a habit to review at least one of your values each week, maybe all the values and just keep them front and center and then live up to them. As a leader, you've got to live up to them. When you make a mistake, because you're going to, own it. Say in front of your team, “You know what? I just messed up on that one, and I am really sorry.” And move on. You know what? The trust level goes way up, and it's amazing when you admit to your mistakes as a leader, how the other team members will do the same and they'll just be responsible.
One of our values, Kevin, is operating in a responsible manner above the line. You can imagine a flip chart and there's a red line drawn across the top of the flip chart and above the line says, accountability. Operating above the line means being accountable no matter what position you’re in, but we're all leaders as you've said a million times. Below that line are things like, justification, justifying why something didn't get done that you're responsible for, blaming others why it didn't get done, don't waste people's time with all that, just play above the line. And as a leader, you've got to start at the top by playing above the line. When you mess up, own it, and be willing to apologize.
Kruse: I always like to challenge our listeners to get 1% better every day. What’s a challenge we can do today?
Dwyer-Owens: I want to challenge everybody out there to understand what your values are and keep them front and center. You can make such an impact, not only in your own life and on your family, but in the businesses that you operate and frankly in the world. At the end of the day, when we lead with values we can make a huge impact on our society.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.