What 2 border crossings teach us about driving value in our company

Traveling holds such mystery and intrigue, particularly when you head off to places you’ve never been before. It lets you to compare what you usually experience at home with that other place. Sometimes the differences are stark, and other times not so much, depending on the culture, vibe, and values of the place. Take, for instance, the experience during two border crossings between the U.S. and Canada. At one crossing, the inquiries were comprehensive, whereas the other crossing was short and to the point. Do you have marijuana or other drugs? Do you have weapons? Do you have bear spray or mace? No, sir, I need to hear it from her. Compare that to: Do you have any fresh fruit in the car? That was it. The extent of the questioning.

Another difference was financial in nature. At one border, we were asked if we were taking more than $10,000 with us out of the country. The other side greeted us with a toll booth. Two countries with two vastly different sets of parameters, expectations, and dare I say, values.

I believe the same is true in our companies. Our set of values, expectations, and operating parameters define our companies, which in turn directly impacts our success, financially as well as in other intangible ways such as reputation, ability to attract talent, and so on. A recent client situation brought this point home loud and clear.

We were in the midst of a facilitated client manager meeting. The conversation was an important one, with an expectation that the team lean in to identifying important issues that would help propel the company to the next level. Throughout the course of the conversation, I was able to observe one manager becoming extremely uncomfortable. While Jack didn’t say a word, his body language, even through Zoom, clearly showed he was taking comments personally even though they were not delivered in that way at all. I sent a private message to the CEO, Katherine, who was also on the call. She had seen it too.

There was a separate instance when one of the other managers, Joan, got a bit feisty in their commentary, being very forthright and critical of a different aspect of the business. At the break, Katherine and I talked, and she apologized profusely for Joan’s behavior and then immediately sought out Jack to assure him that the commentary was not personal in nature.

After we reconvened, Joan resumed her feistiness. Katherine did not intervene during the conversation, which would have flown in the face of their values of respect and teamwork. But it was clear at our wrap-up discussion that she would be following up with Joan as her behavior was not consistent with the company’s values. This value set is so deeply engrained that, on our check-in call two weeks later, Katherine again apologized and reinforced that she had used the situation as a coaching opportunity with Joan.

Compare that to some of the meetings you’ve experienced in the company that you work for. How do colleagues live out your company’s stated values? Or do they not, and by doing so, how are they undermining the very culture and fabric of the organization it needs to succeed? Too often, we avoid conflict, diminishing our values and value. Accountability is a big, fancy word rather than an active concept that we live by.

That’s not the case at my client’s company. By holding her team accountable to the values of the organization, she is holding them accountable to achieve what they set out to do. They are being held to higher standards — for the company and for one another. This team, as a result, is driving results. Those results are driving the growth of the company’s sales, profits, and value. (Interestingly, this also is true between the two countries on many, but not all, metrics.)

My challenge for you, whether visiting different places this summer on vacation or thinking about your company, is to consider how aligned your actions are with your stated values. If they are not aligned, which is out of kilter? Are incongruent behaviors being unaddressed or do they represent your true values? It’s one or the other. And then, what will you do about it?

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