Do Values Matter?

There is a great story about Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines where “Fun” is one of the primary values.  Apparently a customer didn’t like that a flight attendant was having fun with the safety talk at the beginning of a flight (something about bringing around fresh towels and cocktails in the event of a water landing.)  That customer wrote a letter of complaint to Mr. Kelleher.  Rather than responding with apologies or airline credits, he responded with just four words:  “We will miss you.”

Values do matter.  They encourage the right behaviors and reflect the “DNA” of an organization. Southwest’s CEO stuck with the core value of Fun — would you do the same?

Autocratic vs Self-Managed Teams

The next time you form a team, consider this:  While both supervisor-led teams and self-managed teams can be just as productive, there is a one big difference.  Without the supervisor present, the supervisor-led team will stop being productive — they’ll simply reschedule the meeting for when the supervisor can be attend.  The self-managed team however, will continue to be productive because they have learned how to manage themselves and how to learn together.  The best approach is to get a new team off to a quick start by providing clear objectives and measures, but let the team decide how they will organize and get the results.

When You Need to Change People’s Behaviors

When working with leaders to change people’s behaviors, I’ve found the most effective approach is to appeal to rational self-interest and use carrots rather than sticks.

As an example, Ohio State professor and dean, Cheryl Achterberg, wrote in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal about how the U.S. Government’s new Dietary Guidelines are changing again (and in ways that are contradictory to previous guidelines.)  But the key point she makes is how the government is using chastisement and seeking ways “to limit public access to “bad” foods in hopes of pressing us all to eat “good” foods instead.”   Her view is that this strategy will fail and she references studies that show incentives work better than penalties when changing people’s habits.

On a larger scales, this is borne-out by the failure of Prohibition to change habits on the one hand, and the very successful educational approach which has led to a significant reduction in smoking within the U.S.

It’s an important point for leaders when attempting to change habits in organizations.  While it’s easier to dictate new norms and penalties for non-compliance, effectively educating people and recognizing better behaviors leads to longer-term substantive changes.