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31Practices: what are they and why are they important?

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1st Nov 2013
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The IBM CEO Study (2012), Leading through Connections, outlined three imperatives essential for outperformance. The first was empowering employees through values. Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges (2003) estimate that fewer than 10% of organizations have clear, written values and many take the work on values no further than words. To impact, core values need to extend into the day-to-day fabric of the organization and be a reference for decisions and behaviours at all levels, influencing people daily.

31Practices is a simple methodology for releasing the power of an organisation’s values every day. How does it work?  First, identify your organisation’s core values and, with employees, co-create a set of 31 practical behaviours directly related to these values. Each day, make one of these practices the focus for everybody in the organization. Over time, behaviour becomes habitual and consistent at an individual and group level, bringing organisational values to life, and, as a result, releasing untapped potential and raising the performance bar. The importance of a focus on just one practice each day should not be underestimated because it allows us to perform in a very conscious way to the very best of our ability.

Imagine a hotel company, with the practice today being “We take pride in our immaculate appearance (personal and facilities) and professional behaviour”. Whilst we may assume that immaculate appearance is part of business as usual, on the day each month when this practice comes round, every employee is reminded of its importance and chooses how they personally are going to live that particular practice. This can something as simple as polishing shoes, taking extra care when ironing a shirt, tidying the furniture in a meeting room or picking up some litter in the car park.

One of the strengths of the 31Practices approach lies in the blend between practice and theory – the method weaves together principles and practices from psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, leadership and business to significantly enhance customer and employee satisfaction and loyalty.

Why is 31Practices right now?

In today’s business context, the weak links in organisations are easily exposed. Each relationship, each action, each connection can have the potential to impact reputation and brand – and can impact on share price and ultimately, whether the organisation thrives or declines. Media exposure is more intensive and extensive, organisations have nowhere to hide and the world is super-connected. Employee and customer perception is shared openly and quickly.

The business world is shifting at unprecedented speed. Employees need a holistic understanding of what the organization stands for so they can behave in a way that is in line with the organisation values without having to refer upwards to make day-to-day decisions.

Many organisations are now part of complex structures that comprise a web of outsourced functions e.g. call centres, facilities management, logistics and security. And, the least senior people (perhaps those not even working for the parent brand) have the greatest influence on perception: the cashier, the car park attendant, the bell boy - not the CEO. 31Practices enables an organisation’s values to be represented by employees in a “virtual organisation” so that customer experience is consistent.

The products and services offered by organizations can be easily copied (sometimes very quickly). The one remaining point of differentiation is an organisation’s “personality” displayed through values.

We are more aware that emotions are of significant importance in human decision-making processes. The basis for a lot of emotional connections is a common sense of values. Increasingly, customers and employees identify with organisations as a statement about themselves as an individual and the “tribe” they belong to.

Achieving values alignment can result in measurable beneficial outcomes across a variety of balanced scorecard measures ranging from increased customer satisfaction, to more inspired employees, increased employee retention, and increased sales and profit.

Of course, values alignment is difficult to achieve - if it was easy to do, everybody would be doing it already. The challenge is in the relentless pursuit and obsession with authentic delivery: every action, every person, every day… and practice makes more perfect!

As the song says: “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, that’s what gets results.”

References:

IBM (2012). Leading through connections: Insights from the IBM Global CEO Study http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/en/c-suite/ceostudy2012/ (accessed 28th July 2013).
Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges (2003).The Servant Leader. Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.

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