September 15, 2010
By Jacki Hart CLP
Prosperity Partners program manager

Jacki HartThe Prosperity Partners program offers peer-based training to help business owners and managers map a route to a better business balance. One of the most common areas of business challenges, which emerge during our seminars, revolve around the people in your business.

Many business owners struggle with recruiting, effective training, efficient execution of work, consistent effort, results and morale, to name a few.

One of the main reasons I believe this happens is that most companies lack a clearly communicated founding principle. This includes the non-negotiable core values of the business.

When your business operates only from the foundation consisting of your passion, experience and knowledge, everyone who works in your day-to-day operation lacks a basic set of guiding principles from which they can determine acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, effort and results. Your staff can’t read your mind, nor can they follow your intuitive thinking.

Core values

However, when your business operates from a clearly defined and communicated set of core values — which reflect your passion and vision — you can unlock the potential for enormous improvement in the consistency and effectiveness of your staff.

Here’s an example: This morning, I overheard a weekly meeting at Water’s Edge Landscaping between our lead crew hands and their supervisor. The discussion was prompted by the waning effort of a university student who is in her last week of work with us for the season. I paraphrase the following, but essentially, here’s how the discussion unfolded:

Lead Hand ‘A’: “This student has been lagging behind and copping attitude all week. I can’t be bothered to deal with her, because it’s her last few days. My concern this morning is that with the project we are working on today, I need her full effort in order to come in on budget.”

Supervisor: “Is there a reason why you believe this student has the permission to collect the same pay for the week and in exchange provide us with significantly less of her and a lowered productivity?”

Lead Hand ‘A’: “Well, when you put it that way, no. She doesn’t have that permission. I just don’t want conflict on my crew, when we have so much work to complete.”

Supervisor: “OK, step back. Our company core values are competence, adaptability, respect and excellence. We use these to guide us every day in everything we do. Help me to understand how either of you are following the guiding principles for work at Water’s Edge: the student by choosing her own pace, and you, by allowing her to.”

Lead Hand ‘A’: “Well, it doesn’t. So how do I use CARE (Competence, Adaptability, Respect and Excellence) to change this situation?”

Supervisor: “Start a frank discussion with the student before you leave here this morning and it can unfold something like this: ‘In the past couple of days, I’ve noticed that you have chosen to change your pace, and are not as wiling to do your work tasks, as you have been all summer long. The work we do every day hasn’t changed, nor has the budget, so help me to understand why you are choosing to work less while expecting to be paid the same?”

Lead Hand ‘A’: “What if she tells me it’s her last few days and she doesn’t care?”

Supervisor: “That’s easy – remind her that she’s making a choice, and that her choice does not reflect competence, respect or excellence, and that she was hired on the agreement that she would work consistently with our core values. If she chooses to give herself the permission to ignore them, there is a consequence to that choice. You then make it clear that your choice is to stand by our core values, and ask her for her decision. She does not have your permission to undermine the effectiveness, or morale of the rest of the crew, so she will have to rethink and choose to work as diligently up until her last minute, or shorten her term with us. Working with a poor attitude, slow pace and lack of attention to detail is simply not acceptable.”

Lead Hand ‘B’: “I have her on my crew tomorrow and the day after, so if you want to have that conversation with her now, I will help you. I also don’t want someone working with me who will lag behind and distract me all day by needing to be prodded or corrected. I don’t have the energy to waste on that kind of behaviour either.”

Supervisor: “Thanks for stepping up and helping with what’s going to be a brief, yet uncomfortable conversation. I want both of you keep in mind the example I used last week: Remember when one of our solid crew members was short tempered and lagging on the site where we were all working together? Remember that I took him aside, told him that his behaviour was not reflecting CARE, and used examples of how it was not aligned? I told him he had a choice: ‘either step back in alignment with the company values, or be sent home.’ He was single handedly disrupting the flow of work and morale (fun) of the entire team. After speaking to him, he apologized, and was Mr. Helpful for the rest of the day. Are the two of you OK with doing the same with the student?”

The lead hands both agreed that by using CARE it would be a brief, frank discussion, in which neither lead hand was concerned with the student’s reaction or potential emotional outburst. They were very clear on their purpose, and the desired outcome.

Standards unlock potential

By having a clear set of attitudinal and behavioural standards which is clearly communicated in your business, it can unlock the potential for everyone on your team to hold each other accountable to productivity, morale, respect and fairness. In this instance, these clearly defined values provide a navigation tool for staff to map out how they are going to get along, collaborate and be fair to each other. Without a clearly defined way to navigate the intricacies and inconsistencies of the human factor in your business, you will be left babysitting, firing, or simply paying consistently for inconsistent effort.

There are many Prosperity Partners companies in Landscape Ontario that have taken this behavioural navigation tool and run with it. The core values of every company are as different as each owner. In the Prosperity Partners online template library, we have posted a ‘core values chart’ to use as a guide in order to figure this out. In the Build Your Prosperity seminar, we work as a group to help you define these guiding principles and to chart a course on how to use it.

Please write to us and share your stories of how this tool either has, or is enticing you to improve the consistency of effort and results in your business. We’d love to hear from you.

The next Prosperity Partners’ seminars are: Milton, Oct. 21, London, Oct. 26, and Milton, Nov. 18.
Jacki Hart may be reached at