The vice president shared a draft of her company's new values project.
She had been working with two other executives to create them. They had come up with nine after several brainstorming sessions.
On paper, they looked good. These were solid, reasonable values that were all straight out of the corporate values catalog. Nothing controversial.
There were two problems.
The first issue was the company already had a lot of cultural artifacts. A cultural artifact is something that helps people understand your organization's culture, like a mission, vision, or set of values.
This company already had a lot:
- Mission statement
- Service promise
- Service motto
- Brand tagline
Now, they were planning to introduce a new set of values on top of everything else. Which led to the second problem.
Some of those nine values weren't accurate. Communication was number three on the list. "Oh, we suck at communication!" said the vice president.
Perhaps you face a similar mess. Here's how you can untangle it.
Focus vs. Confusion
Companies' cultural artifacts frequently feel empty because organizations often have too many or the existing ones are inauthentic.
In the rush to create another tagline, motto, or corporate vision, nobody takes the time to decide what one statement is the most important or ensure all the artifacts are in alignment.
If everything is important, then nothing is important.
In The Service Culture Handbook, I related the story of a restaurant chain I worked with that had too many cultural artifacts.
It had a mission statement, a brand promise, a set of four service promises, and a list of 17 service standards that waitstaff were expected to follow with every guest.
Employees weren't quite sure which was most important.
This was especially challenging since some of these cultural artifacts didn't clearly support each other. For instance, the mission statement described a desire to create amazing experiences while the service standards emphasized up-selling and efficiency.
At an executive retreat, I posed the question to the CEO, his executive team, and the general managers of each individual restaurant: which cultural artifact is most important?
There initially wasn't a consensus, but it led to a good discussion. The group finally agreed that the mission statement should be the primary guide for the employees.
Next, they decided to rethink their existing cultural artifacts. Some were eliminated while others were simplified and aligned with the mission. The 17 service standards were slimmed down to 10.
The restaurant chain's leadership team then communicated the revised artifacts to employees with a renewed emphasis on the mission.
Not surprisingly, service quality improved once employees had a consistent understanding of what outstanding service should be.
Where a Customer Service Vision Fits In
In customer-focused companies, the most important cultural artifact is a customer service vision.
A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding service that guides all employees' actions when it comes to serving customers.
What if your company already has some pretty important artifacts?
When my clients face this challenge, I usually suggest two options. Option one is to make one of your existing artifacts do double-duty as the customer service vision.
In many companies, the organization's mission, vision, or values is also the customer service vision. There's no need to add yet another statement to the mix!
For example, take a look at REI's mission statement:
At REI, we inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.
This is why the company exists (hence, the mission), but it also paints a clear picture of what type of service employees should strive to provide. Go visit an REI location today and you'll almost certainly find enthusiastic retail associates who will try to help you enjoy the outdoors!
In some cases, none of my clients' existing cultural artifacts are particularly inspiring. (They decide this, not me.) That's when I suggest a second option: replace one of your existing artifacts with the new vision.
I recently helped a client do this and it was amazing how much the new vision energized employees.
Take the Three Question Test
Here's an easy way to tell if a cultural artifact is actually relevant.
Select one of your cultural artifacts (mission, vision, values, motto, tagline, etc.). Talk to a random sample of employees and ask them three questions about that artifact:
- What is it?
- What does it mean?
- How does it guide the work that you do?
You can tell the artifact has virtually no meaning if employees aren't aware of it or can't give consistent or clear answers to those questions.
In customer-focused companies, every employee can give a consistent answer to the three questions when asked about the customer service vision.
You can learn more about customer service visions and how to create one here.