In the wake of the Toyota recall disaster (that’s about the best description for that event), it brings us around to thinking about the values you might have in your organization, especially when having to make tough decisions. The author and motivational speaker Bud Bilanich has said about values:
“Values ground an organization- providing direction for people who find themselves in ambiguous situations. They are guides for decision making.”
If your organization doesn’t have agreed-upon values, it’s a good time to get your people together and discuss some. Even if your organization fails to enact some, the team you control should put together a value statement that provides direction to those who have to make a watershed decision at some point with little guidance otherwise.
While remaining true to your core values aren’t always easy. It may even cost you at some point, like the instance in which Johnson & Johnson had to pull Tylenol off the shelves in the wake of a cyanide poisoning scandal. The decision cost them hundreds of millions of dollars, but ultimately, the company prospered because of the ultimate consumer confidence that sprang from sticking to their values: “…our first responsibility is…to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products.”
As an emergency response organization, your core values may involve treating the people who call you for assistance with compassion and dignity. I’ve been in the situation before where that has been difficult, for whatever reason (like when they are abusing you verbally at 0400 hours) but ultimately, the decisions you must make in serving that citizen (or visitor, in our case) should be based on that value and subsequently, those values will protect you in the event that things get nasty. Like when they decide to call a councilman or make a media event out of their situation.
While there are those out there who struggle with calling the people who call for our services “customers”, that shouldn’t preclude you from believing that these people are the reason for your existence, whatever you choose to call them, and they should be treated with dignity, respect, and empathy. Just because you don’t perceive them as having a choice in who provides their service, it doesn’t keep them from raising a royal stink over the attitude you present, regardless of “who started it”. You’ll still look like the bad guy in the media.
It is imperative that not only does your organization recruit and retain people who embrace your values, but that the culture holds those values dear, that people are rewarded for upholding those values, and that deviation from those values are redirected. When the going gets tough, those values will carry your organization through the tough scrutiny of a media frenzy and by standing close to those values, it will keep you all together though the storm.