Who Gives a #%&¤ About Values?

By Keith Silverang

You can’t sell it outside if you can’t sell it inside.” ― Stan Slap.

Some see corporate values as a higher form of corporate Bullshit Bingo – a good source for jokes around the company water cooler. More often than not, they are right. That’s sad. I personally believe that well communicated values can drive sustainable competitive advantage. They can help you attract and keep employees who share the company’s DNA – people who will be able to make customers feel your culture and hopefully fall in love with it.

Or the opposite if you screw it up.

Here are some of the things I strongly believe in when it comes to customer service:

  • We work with passion to exceed expectations
  • We keep our promises and over-fix our mistakes
  • We take initiatives without waiting to be asked
  • We are performance-obsessed and solution-driven
  • We work together but entrepreneurially

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’m passionate about this stuff and I use these values to evaluate how we treat customers, our Board and each other. There’s a reason we do internal customer satisfaction surveys twice a year. There’s a reason we have insourced Reception on all our campuses. It’s not enough to have values. You have to be able to control their deployment in a service business. You can empower people. You can give them clear KPIs and targets. You can incentivize both your own staff and external partners. But if they don’t share your passions, your philosophy – in other words, your basic values – you will fail.

After a while you learn how to ask the right questions, in job interviews, in performance appraisals, in supplier evaluations. You begin to figure out how to identify like-minded people, although heaven knows, it ain’t easy. People are ever so clever at disguising their true selves in interview situations and tests are all too easy to fool if you are intelligent enough. So, I will admit that I go to some effort to figure out who people really are. I might ask something like, “Would you consider yourself a normal person?” and when they answer that, well, yes they consider themselves to be, I watch their reaction when I say “That’s too bad, because we as a company are not normal.” You can almost see the rapid reprogramming going on across their faces as they try to readjust. I also test people by trying to draw very vivid pictures about just how hectic, chaotic and 24/7 all-out crazy life can be at Technopolis. This tactic is especially effective after you have got them to admit that they believe in a healthy work-life balance.

All this is just to say that for me, values are a powerful tool to at least try to surround myself with like-minded lunatics who can share my commitment to going that much farther than what is expected. That little bit extra is ultimately what separates us from our competitors. Who wants normal? Normal sucks. I’m not ashamed to say that out loud. Not all of my people share this view.

But we’re getting there…

Keith Silverang is the CEO of Technopolis Plc, a listed Finnish real estate park specializing in smart business parks. He holds an MBA degree from Helsinki School of Economics. Before Technopolis, he has worked e.g. as an internationalization consulting entrepreneur for 6 years.

nbr_kansiThis column appeared on the August 2014 issue of Nordic Business Report. Read the full magazine here »


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