It may seem strange, or at least unusual, when a life assurance consultant meets a potential client, the client will ask "Behind what values do you stand as a company?" Of course, the "strangeness" of such an inquiry can easily be related to any business. In fact, we should not see it as strangely, especially since the last financial cataclysm.
Financial services - banking, investment banking, life insurance and general insurance - were further damaged by growing client mistrust due to the problems of companies and banks that were otherwise known for their stability during the financial crisis. The decline in confidence in insurance companies (source: LIMRA, 2015) ranging from 32% to 19% in June 2015 has a strong negative effect in terms of increased dropping rates, unwillingness to make recommendations, and so on. Someone would ask, "What does this have to do with company values?"
The answer is that many companies have forgotten that What (achieved as a financial result) goes hand in hand with How (the results are achieved). "How?" Is doing business can not be associated with compromises that seem to achieve a higher profit or short-term benefit. This issue has to do with the long-term sustainability of the business and the ability of companies to evoke and manage change.
"Founding" or "key" values belong to "How?" Is doing business. They are a group of common guiding principles that remain unchanged. They present the "genome" of the company and can give answers to why a company has a certain behavior. Some examples: "We strive for perfection", "We put the customer first", "We respect others", "We take measured risks", "We do honorably", etc. Values can not be discussed as "moral" or "right", they just say what the company stands for.
But are there companies that have their own core values and yet do not meet the promise of their customers? And if so, why do not they succeed? Yes, there are such companies that they do not do what they promised is that they are proclaiming their values, but they do not work through them. The reasons:
- Values must be authentic. To be really key values, they must come from the company itself, from its history. There must be a lot of evidence for an organization's employees that in time their company has acted in a certain way. If you are known in the market with general terms that no one understands or an unreliable payment system, you can not declare "We value the customer" for our value. Your employees will never do it, they can even become cynical and unoccupied because of the obvious gap between what the company claims for itself and reality. The confusion of key values with the values we at best strive for can be a costly mistake.
- Values can not be mere claims. As we have said, the values are fixed over time, but that does not mean that they are stuck in pretentious frameworks in the offices. They should be translated into concrete observable behaviors to be shared and explained to the people in the company. It's not enough to say what you're up against, you have to be able to demonstrate what you believe in. When behaviors demonstrating the values are known, employees at all levels of the company will be able to act "as one" and, no less important, will be perceived by customers as "one"; will easily distinguish beneficial from useless behavior; will know what managers expect from them and what customers expect from them;
- Values must be fully integrated. Many companies understand the value of the values, but they really do take them deep into the organization. The reason is that this process is causing something like "organizational soreness," seen through the disapproval of high-ranking people or people who are very good at their work, but they believe that the demotion of values does not affect them. This soreness, however, is worthwhile because it makes the whole organization healthier and guarantees high added value for customers. For example, if the company's values are to build long-term customer relationships, it will not encourage traders whose only thought is to complete a life insurance transaction for 30 minutes at the lowest possible price. In order to be successful, the integration of values must include all levels of the organization and also all processes related to the management of people - recruitment, selection, introduction, performance evaluation, goal setting, career development, etc. This helps you have a strong team of people with shared values and focused actions that maintain a high standard of how "How?" Is doing business.
- Values should be used to build customer relationships. Values help companies to meet the challenges and develop, and ultimately help companies help their customers. Achieving company values to customers, especially in life insurance, where long-term trust and satisfaction are mandatory, seems crucial. Values shared with customers reinforce the promise given to the client, raise expectations for company employees' performance and thus make the difference between one company and another.
For companies that understand the impact of the founding values and are ready to integrate them, "Behind what values do you stand as a company?" Does not come as a strange and unexpected issue. It comes as an opportunity to encourage people to want more than companies and so much more than life.