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Founder and CEO of market research consultancy, Alter Agents; believer that powerful insights can change businesses.
The optimism many of us felt at the beginning of 2020 was quickly and thoroughly dashed by the onset of the pandemic. At my company, we had big plans to celebrate our 10th birthday and suddenly found ourselves shutting down our offices in downtown Los Angeles and facing an uncertainty we couldn’t have imagined. The new reality put us to the test, and we were glad to have a roadmap to follow.
A few years ago, our team sat down together to develop core values for our company. These weren’t necessarily driven by KPIs or other metrics, but truly reflected what we cared about as individuals and as a group. We chose the following themes to guide us:
• We are candid, never shying away from straightforward insights or honestly discussing our challenges, even if that conversation is difficult.
• We are adaptive, pushing ourselves to address each project and situation in the most tailored way possible instead of forcing preconceived solutions.
• We are symphonic, which is an odd word but the perfect way of saying that we commit to working together, drawing on our diverse skills and experiences to make a whole.
• We are playful, never taking ourselves too seriously, and allowing innovation to thrive.
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It was adaptivity that saved us over the past year, helping to guide our attitude toward our new way of working, building relationships and helping each other. And our business grew. In fact, our team nearly doubled in size over the course of 2020.
If you haven’t clearly articulated your company’s values, it’s time. If you already have some, maybe it’s time to take another look to see if they reflect where you are today. If nothing else, the last year has proven that we never know what’s around the corner. We found that having a clear set of values helped us pick our way through the minefield of economic turmoil and public health challenges with outstanding success.
Putting the Values to Work
While putting values down on paper is one thing, businesses need to take the next logical step: real action. These basic moves can not only help you get through a crisis but also provide a framework for the way you do business on a daily basis:
• Communication, and lots of it. The past year has proven the need for this in spades. The pervading sentiment of uncertainty and grief requires reassurance, or at the very least, a steady stream of information so that staff, customers and other stakeholders don’t have to speculate about what’s going to happen. I feel that it is vital to quickly communicate new developments. The longer you wait, the more time people have to fill in the void with their own stories. If you have a question about the message, turn back to the values to guide you.
• Include everyone. Many of us have recently learned to navigate coming together, even when we’re not in the same location. At Alter Agents, we have all-hands-on-deck video meetings where everyone receives new information all at once. This gives team members the same access to the same information, avoiding small group conversations where people may leave with different impressions or input. We discuss among leadership to make sure we are on the same page and communicating correctly, then announce any new developments to the whole office. Hopefully you came up with your values together, so you can use this time to reinforce and reiterate them as the foundation for the decisions you are making.
• Transparency is critical. People make up stories in the absence of information. Lack of transparency leads to rumors and assumptions, which can quickly tear down morale. Transparency is borne of communication. Do it often. People have a lot going on in their lives and they have been relatively cut off from the interactions they would have been having in the office a year ago. Don’t leave room for assumptions and rumors to fester.
• Make the time. You’d be surprised how often I hear executive leadership at other companies say they don’t have the time for this depth of communication. To me, that’s like saying you don’t have time to learn how to drive a car. You need to take the time. It keeps your passengers safe and happy, and it’s the only way you are going to get to your destination. Make the time to develop clear values, and make the time to take action on them as a team.
There’s a light at the end of this Covid-19 tunnel. But even when things return to some sense of normalcy, the importance of clear company values will not change. The pandemic has given us a reality check and an opportunity to be candid (another of our core values!) with ourselves when it comes to where we want our businesses to go. Take this opportunity for renewal and be honest about what your business and employees need and what you want to accomplish.
Our 10th year in business didn’t turn out as I expected. But because we had clear company values on which to build an action plan, it ended up being one of our most successful years yet. Bring it on, 2021 — we’ll face you with a candid, adaptive, symphonic and playful mindset!
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Author: Rebecca Brooks, Forbes Councils Member
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