Servant Leadership, Culture, & Values
Updated: Aug 7, 2019
The Dallas Servant Leadership Learning Community (SLLC ®) is full of member organizations sharply aware of the importance of culture. One member, Southwest Airlines, has been studied by corporate culture scholars, journalists, and organizational dreamers (like myself) since their inception. During nearly every SLLC® meeting I hear a TDIndustries representative speak of their culture that has resulted in year-after-year recognition as a “Best Place to Work.” It is clear companies that cultivate the servant’s heart are intentional about culture. Culture is not left to chance.
During the June 2018 SLLC ® meeting, though, long-term member Publishing Concepts Inc. (PCI) ... or, as they call themselves, "PCI: not the big company” ... displayed a truly remarkable level of attention to company culture. As guests at PCI, SLLC® members didn’t just observe their culture…we were invited to submerge. After all, culture is subtle; just talking about it betrays its real strength.
Thriving cultures have rituals
At PCI, every business day starts with a 10-minute huddle. Not a “leadership huddle” or “sales team huddle.” Everyone is involved. Although a decade ago it may have been relatively easy for everyone in the Dallas, Texas office to gather in a circle, they now have offices in two other states and Mexico. PCI uses technology for everyone to huddle. Geography does not trump culture.
When approximately 60 members of SLLC® were hosted by PCI we all huddled, too. And not as observers, but as participants. PCI President Drew Clancy got us out of our chairs, gathered us into a large circle, and virtually connected to the other teams. Nothing was modified for our sake. Sales results, emphasis points, celebration of victories, and challenges they faced were all spoken. While you won’t mistake Drew as anyone but the President of the company, many other voices led during the meeting, including front-line employees. It wasn’t Drew’s meeting; it belonged to everyone.
You might be saying to yourself, “Okay, so they all get together. Lots of companies do that…is that really exceptional culture?” No, it is cool, but isn’t necessarily culture. What was exceptional about PCI’s daily huddle, though, was how everyone tied everything they spoke about to company values.
Effective Presidents and CEO’s talk about company values often. Exceptional managers and supervisors talk about values, too. It gets rare when you move to the front-line. Ask yourself honestly: How many of your front-line employees would be able to speak about their company’s specific values and how their daily work connects to those values?
During the PCI huddle, everyone spoke about company values. A supervisor thanked a peer for her hard work during the week, and at the end he made a point to say, “…and that really showed our values of ‘Be proactive’ and ‘Be accountable.’” Speaking about the company’s values is ingrained in how they communicate. Their values are their culture.
Are your organization's values truly shared?
It has become a widely accepted corporate expectation to:
1. Identify values
2. Put them in the employee handbook
3. Hang beautifully printed posters in conference rooms
If you find a company that hasn’t done this, I assure you the next VP of HR will get it done.
That’s great, until you ask the employees of these companies to speak about the organization’s values. In many cases you’ll get blank stares. Maybe they will be sharp enough to pull out their proximity/door card and read it from the handy cheat-card provided by HR. Top performers will study them when a promotion seems imminent. Unfortunately, values often remain an abstract notion that is disconnected from what employees do every day. They remain aspirational messages on the conference room wall.
At PCI the emphasis is on who they are (values), which only then drives what they do. When in that order, everyone tends to unify around something bigger than one individual or themselves.
Values matter to your People (and your results!)
Have you ever heard anyone say, “I’m really excited to work hard so our owner can build a new lake house?” I doubt it. But people can unify around shared values. When they care about the values that drive the organization, and connect to a passion bigger than one person, they get excited. They work harder and tend to find their work more fulfilling. They thrive.
When a collection of individuals thrives, the company thrives.
The company thrives because the values shine through to the customer. The customer connects to something bigger than the transaction, and that means they come back for more.
Then the bottom line shines through to shareholders.
Notice how this ties to servant leadership: Put your people first and everything else will fall into place.
Maybe at this point you’ve opened-up another browser tab to search for PCI’s values. If you haven’t, you can find them here. I’ll warn you now: They aren’t magical. Yes, they are important values and well written, but they are many of the same values you’ll find in other companies.
Why are they so passionate about them?
Because they chose them. When I say “they,” I mean every member of the company. Whenever possible, everyone was involved with refreshing their “Seven Driving Values.” Drew traveled to all locations and met with nearly every team. They had a plan to identify what was important, distilled them down, and gained everyone’s commitment.
They aren’t Drew’s values, or the leadership team’s values, or HR’s values. They belong to everyone, and that means everyone has the right (and expectation!) to uphold them, celebrate them, and pursue them. That’s the magical shift from a poster on the wall to something front-line employees connect to and care about.
Aligning values throughout the company pays off in results. PCI recently acquired a competitor and within one year the acquired company was recognized in its home state as a “Best Place to Work.” It was a turnaround that strategists would envy. Sure, Drew is highly capable of strategy, but he describes himself as a “Workplace Culture Enthusiast.” Strategy follows the culture, not the reverse.
Clear values = releasing full potential
Robert Greenleaf, who is credited with coining the term "servant leadership," talked about leaders first knowing who they are and what they care about so they may serve others with their gifts and passions. He also envisioned corporate structures where this happened on an organizational scale. I have gratitude to have joined PCI, if only for a morning, on their journey of creating such a place.