A few weeks of the new year are already behind us. For many companies across the country, January marks more than the start of the calendar year. It can also signify the beginning of the fiscal year. Forecasts from last fall now show up as targets on our financial statement. All of the new initiatives, programs and best laid plans we devised to meet those goals should now be in the implementation stage.
As exciting as it is to have new goals in place, sometimes the real challenge is in finding meaningful assessment tools to keep us accountable not only to the results, but also to the processes we use to achieve these goals. I used to have a manager that lived by the mantra: “I don’t care HOW you get there…. just GET there!” I always considered that dangerous territory. Guiding principals are important, because they give you the proper platform for meaningful long term and sustainable performance. In many organizations, the guiding principals are even MORE important than the periodic goals.
In February of 1905, a Chicago attorney named Paul Harris started a civic organization that over the ensuing 114 years would link groups of business leaders, and challenge them to make positive, lasting and significant changes not only in this country, but around the world. Rotary International was a key element in the fight to eliminate polio. They routinely raise funds to provide clean water, support education, and grow local economies in order to make them self-sufficient.
All of the good that Rotary International does around the world could have never been accomplished without a set of guiding principles. Early Rotarians were well aware that without a code of ethics, their hard work could fall victim to individual agendas, political infighting, greed, and corruption. In 1932 Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor created what would come to be known as the 4-Way test. All Rotarians would embrace and apply this code to not only the goals of Rotary, but also to their business conduct and interpersonal relationships.
The Rotary 4-Way Test
- Is it the TRUTH?
- Is it FAIR to all concerned?
- Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
- Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
One look at the success and longevity of Rotary International will tell you that these guiding principals actually work. This code of ethics is applicable across the entire spectrum of our society. It is non-partisan, non-sectarian, and engenders equality.
The 4-Way test works well for a civic organization like Rotary. My point in discussing the 4-Way Test is to demonstrate the power of a “code of conduct”. Our goal should be to create our OWN unique code of conduct to govern our own corporate behaviors that will help us achieve our own goals.
In my search for a similar list of principals that could be applied to a corporate organization, a colleague recently shared what he instituted in his own company to govern his processes. I have found these four objectives to be easily measurable, and completely applicable to our business model, and I highly recommend them. These are the four measurable objectives:
Objective One – Customer Service
The final verdict of our success lies in the purview of the customer. Sadly, the pursuit of profitability can many times be undertaken at the EXPENSE of the customer. Rarely do we purposely consider if our practices are customer-centric. Customer service is not easily defined, but if you pay attention, it’s easy to spot when customers start to feel that you don’t have THEIR best interest as YOUR primary goal. Every customer-contact process you have, should be regularly assessed for personal engagement, appropriate tone, consistent messaging, and customer satisfaction. If your process does not PROMOTE customer service, it needs to be altered, or replaced. This may require you to adjust your goals, and that’s OK. I would rather be less aggressive on goal setting and actually KEEP the customer.
Objective Two – Understanding
No matter what business you are in, everyone seems to say the same thing. “We need better communication”! I hear this everywhere. In investigating the root cause of poor communication, I am convinced that the problem is not a LACK of actual communication. Look at the devices we carry! We have more access to communication now then we have ever had in the history of mankind. Remember the pre-internet, pre-cellphone days? I remember carrying a pager on my belt and having to find a pay phone if I wanted to communicate. Now I have voice mail, email, texts, photos and social media. All of which is available for SIRI to stream directly into my ear via Bluetooth.
My observations lead me to conclude that the problem has nothing to do with communication. The problem is actually a lack of UNDERSTANDING. Understanding is the goal of communication, but with the overload of messaging and the pace of business, understanding actually gets lost in the noise.
In my Industry Onboarding webinars, I spend some time discussing this topic. I encourage new hires to practice “active listening”, as a tool to increase understanding. If you are unfamiliar with active listening, it is a method that uses a “listen – then – confirm” process. It uses the catch-phrase: “So, what I hear you saying is….” Using this technique, especially when customer expectations are involved, insures that things are not only communicated, but readily understood. Active listening should have 3 goals.
- That both parties understand the data of the message
- That both parties understand the urgency of the message
- That both parties understand their role in any activity connected with the message.
If everyone in your organization used this method when communicating, customers would seldom if ever feel neglected.
Objective Three – Efficiency
In our business, efficiency can be assessed in multiple ways. Here are the questions that I like to ask.
“How many people have to touch the process to get it completed?”
This is pretty simple, but remember that cutting participants out of the process could affect our prior objectives regarding communication and customer service, so be careful. Look at things like invoice processing, generating proposals, and processing time cards. All of these functions may in fact have too many people involved in their completion. Remember…the fewer the links in the chain…the stronger it is.
“How many necessary steps does it take to complete the task, and does any redundancy in the process exist because we don’t trust people to do their job?”
These two questions are normally connected. We tend to feel more confident if we have multiple people, and redundant steps so that we catch errors within the process. I have a better idea. Design an efficient model, and hold employees accountable for the errors they make. When employees understand the importance of their role, and the effect that errors have on the team, they generally can be called up to higher levels of commitment. Employees should live up to their commitments. I like what legendary NBA coach Pat Riley said about this. “There are only two options regarding commitment. You’re either in or you’re out. There is no such thing as life in-between”.
Objective Four – Own the result.
I think Pat Riley would also agree that a team either achieves the goal, or they don’t. When we start carving out exceptions to make excuses why we didn’t meet our objectives we fail to do one important thing. Own it. You cannot improve a process if you don’t take responsibility for what it is and how things turned out.
I’ve seen this actually happen both ways. Sometimes a leader, in a misguided attempt to keep the team focused, will discount the team’s success so that the team won’t “relax”, and will keep pushing toward better results.
This is an inertia killer. Let me be clear. Great employees, who do great things, will actually STOP doing those things when you refuse to recognize their accomplishments. Enough said.
I encourage all of you to do a process review, and look at aligning your practices with these four measurable objectives. Doing so adds structure and accountability to your operations, and sets the stage for ongoing and sustainable success.