The Road to Success Starts with Defining Core Values
Originally published: 07.01.06 by David Dombrowski
Look in the mirror. The biggest issues that we as managers and owners of contracting companies face are not the changes always swirling about us. We are all full of good intentions and want to rise to every challenge. But when it comes to actual accomplishments, we get buried in the minutia. We handle the upset customer rather than plan for the future. We technically troubleshoot a wiring issue rather than develop a basic script for answering the phone. The key word here is rather. We need to accomplish both, but we tend to choose the task that is most familiar. We keep putting out fires and often the same ones over and over again. We get good at it and pretty soon putting out the fires becomes our comfort zone. We stay in our comfort zone and our company has little forward progress.
The theme of this series of articles is to help you move from reading articles about changing your company to actually giving you a set of guidelines to finally do something about it. I will outline a logical, specific set of actions you can use to combat the inertia that keeps so many small business from reaching their potential. The steps outlined in this series are all tried and proven remedies for establishing a sound organizational structure. The first step in this process is identifying and establishing the core values that will drive your company.
Core values are not policies and procedures. They are the set of basic moral beliefs that are the foundation of your business. It is by adhering to these core values that we continue to develop and identify the company culture.
Established core values give the coworkers confidence in their decisions even when then don’t know the specific policy. These values may differ by company but they typically share (but not always — there are organizations with negative core values) a moral base such as honesty, integrity, professionalism and personal respect, and dignity in an environment of non compromising standards. Allow me to put this into real world practice through the following hypothetical questions:
1 A service tech’s invoice accidentally has a math error that is $100 in your favor. The customer is very happy with the service and will never know that he overpaid the bill. Do you keep the money to make up for others that you will miss or do you simply send back the refund because it is ethically correct? Almost everyone states that they will refund the money and in fact feel pretty good about themselves. But reinforcement of the true value of honesty insists that you have a formal review program for each ticket that will prevent this from occurring AND a formal written policy to compensate the customer for this problem. This extra compensation will be discussed as the concept of “lagniappe” in a later article.
2 You are asked to provide a second opinion on a replacement AC unit. The customer tells you up front that they have $2500 budgeted and that they are ready to give you the money right now if you can handle the replacement. You discover the unit could be repaired for less than $100. Again, do you take the $2500 and put in the replacement unit that the customer requests, tell them the facts about the repair but still take the $2500, or properly educate the customer with the details of the repairs, the costs and benefits of both repairing or replacing the unit, and provide them with the honest standard price regardless of the budget number that they have provided? Even if you have chosen correctly, your commitment to the core value, professionalism and personal respect, is dependent not only on the outcome but also are based upon what formal processes are in place to assure this happens 100% of the time.
3 You run an out-of-warranty service call on a system that you installed 10-years ago. You discover that the duct design on the house is wrong. The customer has not complained about the system but you discover significant air flow problems and temperature differentials throughout the house. Do you ignore everything and perform the service call, mention the problem and offer some discounts to help fix the situation, or do you apologize for your initial failure even though the customer has not complained (customers often are the least qualified group to recognize HVAC problems) and, at no cost to the customer, make all repairs needed including a new, properly designed duct system to bring the system to your standards? Your commitment to the core value of integrity must transcend the short term gross profit mindset of a single job.
5 Your best technician is caught drinking beer in the service truck after hours. Do you let him slide since he is the best or do you hold him accountable to the same standards as the rest of the company even if he may get upset and leave the company? Do you have a written HR policy to avoid favoritism? If we live the message of dignity and personal respect in a non-compromising environment, our choice is clear.
Your coworkers will feel empowered knowing that they are part of a team that supports their decisions when their decisions are rooted in honesty, integrity and the other ethical standards we hold true.
Next month, we will address the basics of establishing a road map to success that starts with making sure that the core values of your company are not only understood by all your co-workers, but begin to define your company and set you on the path to growth.
David Dombrowski is licensed HVAC contractor and the General Manager of the Retail Division of a $30,000,000+ Residential and Commercial HVAC and Plumbing group based in Raleigh, NC. He was a founding member in the consulting team with Service America in the mid 1980s and takes great pride in having the opportunity to have worked side by side with many of the icons in our industry. He holds both Green and Yellow Belt designations in Six Sigma and spent the first dozen years of his career in the operational area of GE Capital
Articles by David Dombrowski
The Road to Success Starts with Defining Core Values
How to move from reading articles about changing your company to finally do something about it.