What Message Are You Sending?

When I went to work in 1959, men came into the office in suits and ties and ladies in dresses with hose and heels.

There was an acknowledged hierarchy. Behind that was an ethic that most professional people believed in and supported. Those who didn’t had to find other work environments.

Today the question is, what is your professional work ethic? If I applied for work in your company, how would I know what you expect of me before I get to an interview? To simply advertise the company’s business goal is not sufficient. Can you tell employees and applicants what they need to know, such as the appropriate dress, behavior and attitude?

There are significant differences across the companies I work with. Can you tell me about yours?
These intangibles are hyper-critical. They are what separate your organization from any other. When I used to work on benchmarking, the issue was: Do the companies look alike? In terms of leadership, priorities, values and investment in people, are they similar? Twenty years ago a bank was a bank, your competitor company looked a lot like you and had the same expectations.
There is much more diversity today. What message are you sending into the labor pool that will attract the attitudes, work ethics and motivations you want? Can you deliver the two-minute elevator speech to your leadership and get their agreement?

The organizations I have worked with that have the greatest success are very explicit about these issues. When I ran Saratoga Institute, I tried to describe the fundamentals of the company to all employees, applicants and customers. The message was simple and very clear. The key words were integrity, imagination, intelligence and intensity.

Integrity: This is a no-exception policy. If you lie, cheat or steal, you are out immediately with no questions.

Imagination: Think out of the box. What is the best way to do anything? Share your creativity with everyone. Help us give our customers something special.

Intelligence: You are smart, so think before you act. Consider all the possibilities. Plan your work with the big picture in mind.

Intensity: Go beyond 9 to 5. Give customers more than they ask for. Commit yourself to the customer, the company and your co-workers.

Does this give you a clear picture of that company?

You can survive without clear expectations, but you can’t be a market leader without sending a clear message. Consider companies such as Apple, Google, IBM, Amazon.com, Ritz-Carlton Hotels, Intel and Hewlett-Packard before it lost its way.

Here are a few tips: No cliches allowed; describe your cultural norms; fully disclose your expectations; and give an honest description of what makes your organization a great place to work.

During more than 20 years of research, Great Place to Work Institute’s Amy Lyman and Bob Levering have found the fundamentals of successful work ethics. It is a short list. The keys are credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie, all wrapped up in trust.

If you take the time to think about the operational examples of these, do they apply to your organization? If not, that is OK, but what is your list? Can you come up with a true description of your organization’s mores? What would you have to say about these: communications, integrity, support, collaboration, caring, equity, impartiality, justice, contributions, work products and social atmosphere?

Whenever we think in descriptive terms, we encounter exceptions. To the extent that you can narrow your descriptors to reach constancy, you have a better chance to be truthful.

Do you work in your organization because it is close to home, not too stressful, has nice co-workers, good benefits, better-than-average pay, fulfilling work, growth opportunity, good leadership or for any of the Great Place to Work norms?

If I applied to your company, what would you tell me are your important working conditions and expectations? What can you say about your organization that is constantly true? When you joined your organization, did you know what to expect? These are a lot of questions, but they are critical to long-term success.