Build a Culture Around Service: Connect services to organizational values.

Organizations aren’t providing excellent service by accident. The organizations that provide the best service recognize why service excellence is their most important value. It isn’t enough to tell employees to “provide excellent service.” Excellent service is provided when we define as a team what success looks like and the behaviors that will get us there.

Most leaders and organizations are familiar with the concept of having core values to describe the organization’s culture. Values are most effective when they are used to guide the actions and words of individuals as a living part of the organization. We define values by identifying the behaviors and actions that show how we express that value in our daily work. Standards of practice or service excellence, and actions of excellence provide expectations and clarity so employees know what’s most important.

For example, Studer Education’s standards and values can be seen below:

the Way
Making the Complex Simple
Definitions: We recognize all team members have value to contribute. We listen, probe, clarify and restate to build precision and agility. We focus on the little things because they make a big difference. We are only satisfied with being at our best with each other and our customers.
We take action to achieve goals. We focus on what’s important to develop clear vision of success. We communicate warmly and positively with others using VIP treatment. We are solutions-oriented and accountable in our quest for continuous improvement.
We go above and beyond at all times. We exceed our customers’ goals and achieve sustainable impact over time.

As a team we worked to outline our standards and analyzed feedback to define standards we would all agree to live by. When employees help define the standards, they are more likely to be committed, rather than merely compliant. This process helps keep employees connected to the values and mission of the organization through daily actions.

To build on the explanation and increase the understanding and delivery of service that goes above and beyond, employees benefit from ongoing communication about standards of service. After standards are defined and leaders rollout the standards to their teams, it’s helpful to put processes in place to keep standards front-of-mind. We build understanding with our employees when we cascade service excellence with the right communication methods. It can also be useful to reinforce your organizations values and standards through a monthly email or communication.

Impact During a Crisis

Very early we established guiding principles that we would use across the system to make our decisions. Things like student safety, employee health and safety, followed by social support and structure for students and families, and learning. We just wanted to be clear with people what our intentions were as we were going into this. – Corey Golla, Superintendent, School District of Menomonee Falls | EP 70: Cultivate a Can-Do Culture

When we asked Superintendent Corey Golla what was most significant about the way his team was able to respond to this crisis, he explained it all came back to the efforts previously made to establish a can-do culture. As the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread across the country and schools began to close, unsure how they would serve students and families in the weeks to come, employees of the School District of Menomonee Falls were identifying problems and solutions without missing a beat.

The leadership team established guiding principles, using their existing principles, to determine what their priorities were for that moment in time. This allowed their team the ability to focus and rapidly solve problems knowing that student safety came before all else, even learning. Another critical piece to SDMF’s response is their culture of trust, which allowed for a collaborative environment to solve challenges together.

Corey explains that his leadership team was honest, transparent and willing to listen to ideas from all individuals. Not only did their leadership team place a high importance on listening to employees, they also collected feedback from the community. After a few weeks of virtual learning and instruction SDMF issued a survey to students and parents and implemented adjustments over spring break.

If you haven’t found the actions/terms that you live by as an organization, you’ve got to do that. Because it makes it so much more relevant as a leader to be able to talk to your organization in that common language, those key terms, in times of crisis. Because everybody understands exactly what those terms mean, and it can help settle things. – Dr. Natalie Harder, former Chancellor of South Louisiana Community College | EP 67: Move Forward By Doing the Next Right Thing

Community College leader Dr. Natalie Harder also attributed her school’s success during these challenging times to the guiding actions her team established to live by. Natalie was able to use those values and behaviors to mold communication to her team that resonated and reduced anxiety due to the familiarity of the key words. In her interview, she also attributes their success to having these foundational pieces in place to keep her team aligned and focused on the same thing.

Excellent service starts from the inside out. When leaders model to their teams how to incorporate the values and standards into their work, individuals’ model that behavior to their colleagues, communities and customers. In times of crisis this is the glue that holds teams together.

Does your team know what’s most important to the organization? How do you know?

Have a conversation with your team explaining how your standards and values connect to the mission of the organization and guide in times of crisis.


EP 70: Cultivate a Can-Do Culture
with Corey Golla

Listen Now >>



EP 67: Move Forward By Doing the Right Next Thing
with Natalie Harder

Listen Now >>

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  • […] values and standards are guidelines for the way we behave at work. Values and standards define how we work together and get to where we want to go. To focus on rewarding what is important and what we want to see […]

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