Heroes define the culture of a company. They encode the true values of the business in the stories that emerge from their actions. We all remember stories of an employee working through the night with no regard for sleep, wagering everything on a new product, unifying a contentious team, or stopping everything to address a problem. These are the heroes of your organization, and these stories become the legendary standard of what makes a good employee. These heroes’ legends are passed on to employees new and old, subtly conditioning their behavior to match the stories’ values. Heroes can lead your company to long-term success, or they can act more like outlaws who bring it to its deathbed. Much of the success of your company’s culture depends on which heroes you reward and which you redirect.
Positive Example of Heroes in Legendary Customer Service
Two excellent examples of creating the right kind of heroes are Nordstrom and Ritz-Carlton. Both highly value customer service and emphasize its importance. However, more than company handbooks, what really express the significance of customer service are the stories told of past positive examples. Nordstrom heroes include a Nordstrom employee who accepted a customer’s return of tire-chains even though the clothing store did not sell tire-chains and an employee who ordered and personally tailored an Armani suit overnight for a desperate father-of-the-bride, even though Nordstrom did not sell Armani products. Likewise, most at Ritz-Carlton have heard about one of its housekeepers who upon finding a laptop left in a room, immediately bought a $2000 plane ticket to Hawaii with the company’s card and personally delivered the laptop to the desperate former guest about to present at a conference. The next day, the housekeeper received a simple “good job” note from her boss because she had simply done what was expected. These heroes’ examples quickly answer fellow employees’ questions of “just how important is customer service?” This creates an empowered workforce, inspired by stories of heroes before them, to move forward promoting the stories’ values.
Community-building Sheriff vs. Lone-gunman Outlaw
Although the goal of fostering values with positive heroes is obvious, many businesses inadvertently foster heroes that are better described as lone-gunman outlaws. For example, you can quickly destroy a positive culture by praising accomplishments that “got done no matter what.” As important as results are, the method of obtaining those results builds your company’s culture. For example, if you publicly recognize an employee that ignores procedures to accomplish an “urgent, important” goal, then you begin to build a culture of breaking procedures. Rewarding results, regardless of the how the hero gets them, often builds a business climate prone to waste money, discourage teamwork, squander growth, and drown good ethics.
On the other hand, choosing the right qualities to emphasize can bolster heroes that can save your company and propel it into future growth. This hero, the community-building sheriff, makes good things happen by persuasion rather than force. Instead of making others dance by shooting at their feet, this person motivates employees to join in a common goal. Driven but respectful, he or she both follows and helps improve procedures so that everyone involved accomplishes their goals. Indeed, these hero sheriffs often help build the company’s structure so that success can continue to flow long after they ride into the sunset. By recognizing and supporting the sheriff heroes who accomplish with your team instead of lone-gunman outlaws who accomplish despite your team, you can build a positive culture that saves money, fosters teamwork, encourages growth, and promotes good ethics.
[Image by Denis Medri. Used with Permission.]