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Values - A Fable Rooted in Real Life

Written by: Ralph Twombly
Published: October 2013

Your turn to be the consultant...

This month, I want to begin a series of articles that are written in case study form. For a long time I have wanted to do this and share some of the successes our clients have seen over the years and to share some holes we think you might want to avoid. In the interest of protecting our clients we have disguised the names and a few of the circumstances so you can get the value from what they have learned. Our intent is never to embarrass or tell tales "out of school." Much of what we do is under the umbrella of confidentiality and we will honor that agreement at all times. So, please look at the stories as anecdotal and more about the lessons than the people who either succeeded or met real adversity in the event.

This story is about organizational values so let's start with some definition.

We went looking for - What are Organizational Values? And we found...

  • Organizational values are abstract ideas that guide organizational thinking and actions.
  • Organization values represent the foundation on which the company is formed.
  • Defining an organization’s unique values is the first and most critical step in its formation and development.
  • While difference in opinion and skills may be beneficial to the success of an organization, a unity of purpose must be maintained.
  • In order for the institution to be successful, the values on which the company is built must be appropriate for the time, place, and environment in which the organization will operate.
  • A company's organizational values let others know what it is, why it has been created, and how it is different from other companies.

The Story - Belle Jacobs was the newly minted President of a small manufacturer; Rally Technologies. Rally was owned by Monument Industries which acquired Rally fifteen years ago because they were a onetime vendor who created the motors for all of Monument's designs. Belle's rise to the top of the ladder was particularly satisfying because, as most of her colleagues said, "Manufacturing is a man's world." Belle came up the hard way and had to wait for senior leaders to eventually move on or retire, but patience had always been one of her strengths. Stay strong, persevere, and excel were more important than perfection and, also, loyalty counts. "Make your leader look like a hero and return on that investment always pays off", was Belle's response to one of my questions. Belle came up through a variety of organizational routes: Sales, then HR, eventually finance and her last stop was as the Chief Operating Officer in charge of R&D and Marketing. This unique background prepared Belle to know the "whole business", and that education taught her a few things that she tucked away over the years.

From the beginning it was apparent to most who met Belle that the "raw material" was there. She is smart, can take on almost any challenge successfully, manages her stress, leads people and discovers leaders. Lots and lots of leaders. Clearly Belle has the "it" factor. When I first met Belle, she and I discussed what she wanted from her organization and its people, and Belle was quick to tell me, "If business finds the best people and keeps those people satisfied, little else matters." She learned this as she traveled through sales, and then wound up in the HR role, but kept it to herself because the President of Rally at the time felt very differently. To him, "if it wasn't measurable, it didn't exist" and he felt that if you had the right product, a good process and "sold the heck out of it", all things would work themselves out. In the beginning of Belle's career she was convinced that her people-oriented view was based on some "soft" ideas ingrained through her youth in a very close family. As time went by, she became more and more convinced that the strategy of "good satisfied people" made more and more sense. So, the day she was named President she was not nearly as excited by the title, money and prestige as she was by the opportunity to place her fingerprint on the organization and build something on the value of "good satisfied people."

Soon, Belle started to institute a more participative environment, complete with idea generation systems and employee involvement, and a heavy emphasis on ideas driven through employees taking ownership for their own jobs and build stronger teams. Cost control was not lost on Belle and while she would speak of her people. It was widely accepted that she understood all the best practices of running a manufacturing organization.

Troubles in the economy and at home - Early in 2009 and in the throes of the biggest recession of our times, the home office back at Monument was starting to feel the impact of clients holding their capital budgets. At first slowly and then more rapidly 20, 30, 40 and even 50% of the order volume evaporated and along with that evaporation came the necessary capital cuts at Monument. Because people constitute the biggest part of most businesses, expense pressure was applied from Monument to Rally. First, a cut back of 10% of the workforce was mandated. Soon, the message for an additional 20% came from headquarters.

Meanwhile back at Rally, Belle had been building a leaner organization that was able to respond through teamwork to high demand and cover expense without adding people. As a result, she was working with fewer people to get greater productivity and had begun to build the foundation of something unique in her industry - a high performance organization. Efficiency at Rally was creating a new norm for all the companies owned by Monument. In fact, Belle had fans back at the home office that saw the changes she had authored. All of this considered, Belle could see the writing on the wall and presented the problem to her employees. But first, the people at Monument sent out the orders; reduce the workforce by 50%. Belle could envision the looks on her people’s faces as she prepared to tell them as a group of the orders. All that she valued and created would be challenged. She could hear her own doubts about what she did. Would have been better to just do it like the previous President? Did she lead her people on by letting them take ownership in their work to lose out to a corporate mandate?

Your thoughts - tell us what you think. We really want to know. Send your thoughts back by e-mail and I will be glad to give them time in the article.

  • What were the values that Belle was exercising and what were the values exhibited by Monument? The list provided might be helpful to choose from.
  • If you are owned by a company like Monument, is it a good idea to bring new values to your small supporting business?
  • What would you do if you were Belle?

Next month (November) - I will finish the story for you and let you know what Belle did and why. You might be surprised.

We are not quite at the end yet, but I wanted to take a moment to thank you for a great year in 2013. I'm feeling gratitude as the holiday season approaches and as each of you start to think of loved ones and the value of your relationships.

The greatest gifts of business are also those relationships and people you are fortunate enough to meet and share time with. That is you.

Hope you are enjoying our beautiful fall weather and I will be back in November.

Ralph Twombly

Ralph Twombly

In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.