A recent experience taught me that organizational values statements count. I had coffee with an old friend, Vicki McAllister, whom I hadn’t seen in 15 years. She and I first met when she hired me to deliver some training to a Skilled Nursing Facility, (SNF is the Arizona licensure designation) where she was executive director. At the time, I was impressed with the way she challenged employees to come up with their own solutions to organizational problems.
Vicki’s facility was located in Scottsdale, AZ and every summer, like most health care facilities there, summer means all the snowbirds leave and the occupancy rate for most health care facilities plummet. This causes them to operate in the red for five months. (Arizona’s hellish summers last from May 1 to October 1).
Vicki’s parent corporation had given her the mandate to make her skilled nursing facility (SNFs) profitable during the summer months. She immediately appointed a committee of representatives from every department plus a housekeeper and a couple of nursing assistants. She gave them the mandate to come up with solutions, and they did. In fact, their suggestions, including shutting down two of the operating units and putting more than half the staff on part time status were so radical that Vicki feared plunging morale and even a staff revolt.
Surprisingly, everyone agreed to the plan, and the nursing home stayed in the black for the entire summer. No one quit or protested. When Vicki expressed her thanks at the October all-staff meeting, she was told that it was ok because everyone recognized the need to take these drastic actions and the remedies had been created by their own colleagues.
I really looked forward to chatting with Vicki. I’d heard she had since been involved in the turn-around of six different low occupancy and high staff turnover SNFs since I’d last seen her. After some pleasantries, I asked her what her secret was. Did she appoint more special committees to meet financial goals? Surprisingly, she said it’s more basic than that.
She said it starts with core values, such as respect and living the mission statement of the organization…the ones so many organizations develop on paper, post on the walls and then ignore. She said you start with those values, and then work like crazy to show that those values are important to you and the well-being of the organization. It is also important to ‘catch staff doing things right’ and looking for strengths as most leaders and visiting consultants focus on what is not going well.
How She Did It
I asked her how she showed that those values are important, and she said simply by being there, constantly referring to the values statement and demonstrating the values therein CONSTANTLY. As she went on to describe how she did that, I was reminded of the old concept of MBWA (Management By Walking About) which was originated at Hewlett Packard and discussed in Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence. She said you’ll never inculcate values unless you show yourself, on a regular basis, whether it’s in weekly meetings, in hall-way huddles or bumping into people on the floor. Then you use each one of these encounters to demonstrate your values and tie them to the values statement.
For example, if your values statement says, “We will respect each other’s opinions.” Then chatting with people regularly and asking for their opinions gives you the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that respect. It also gives you the credibility to intervene if you observe disrespect. If someone interrupts someone in a meeting, you can say, “You know, it’s part of our values statement to respect each other’s opinions, so let’s hear Joe out.”
If there’s a discussion about what to tell a customer when an order is delayed, and your values statement says you will be honest in all transactions, then being so and reminding the employee(s) with whom you are talking that it’s part of the values statement to be honest accomplishes three things. (1) It re-educates the employee(s) about the values statement. (2) It shows that you take the values statement seriously – that it’s a living document, not just a poster on the wall. (3) It helps you choose the best course of action to keep everyone out of trouble.
How Values Affected The Outcome?
Now if this sounds a bit Pollyanna-ish, you’re right. But, according to Vicki, it’s at the core of helping people trust you as a leader and of making them feel valued as employees. There must be something to it, because all six of the facilities that Vicki has helped turn around went from 100% annual staff turnover to less than 40%. More importantly, they all went from chronically operating in the red to making a profit. And that’s a values statement in itself.