Your vision and values can be clearly stated on signs throughout your office, but in the end, it’s still more about what your employees think it is than what you say it is.
It’s a lesson that Michael Evans has taken to heart at the American Institute of Toxicology Inc., a forensic testing and research company that does business as AIT Laboratories.
As the founder, president and CEO, Evans says his job is to identify the vision and values for the company, and then communicate them to the company’s 325 employees with consistency and passion.
“My real job is keeper of the culture,” Evans says. “I maintain the culture, I maintain the standards by which we operate, the values, and make sure that we constantly drive those values as we make our decisions going forward. If it’s not consistent with our values, we’re not going to do it.”
Smart Business spoke with Evans about how you can build, maintain and communicate your vision and values at your company.
Know what you stand for. Establishing your vision and values comes down to knowing what you are really about, who are you, and do you stand for anything. You need to establish that early on. That message has to resonate throughout the company, and the hardest job I’m faced with is to make sure that message gets down to every employee as we continue to grow.
When we first started the company, it was me and a few other people. It’s pretty easy to communicate values at that point. But as we grew, the question became how to continually do that. It’s showing it every day, even in little ways. It’s just saying thank you to people when they do a good job, showing recognition to people when they do a good job, showing your appreciation to them, showing them that they’re valued members of the company.
As an example of how we convey our values, we donate 5 percent of our net profits to charity. We do that because it’s part of our values system. We engage our employees in doing that, we have a contributions committee that decides where the money is going to go. We demonstrate through our actions what we’re about as a company, what values we stand for.
Communicate with passion. Be authentic, be yourself and don’t try to fake it. If you’re not authentic, communicating the vision won’t work. I find it amusing that some CEOs would claim equality with their employees, but if you look at their take-home bonus at the end of the year, there is no equality. Our bonuses are shared equally by everybody. In fact, the executive management team does not share in the net-profit bonus. That’s for the employees.
You just have to be honest with your employees, even to a fault, and keep showing passion for the company, for your business, for serving your people and recognizing that people are the foundation for your company. I saw an article in the news recently about how companies are having a tough time in the economy right now. Some CEOs who are really successful are turning down their bonuses. It goes back to reinforcing the idea that you and everyone at the company are in this together, and if the team has to sacrifice due to tough times, you should be sacrificing, as well. Some CEOs won’t do that, and I don’t really understand that. You’re not showing that you care about your employees. Showing that you’re authentic and that you’re part of the team is essential to build that bond with your employees.
We have a number of committees that are run by employees. They’re not run by the management team. We tell them that their job is to communicate with the rest of the employees, their co-workers, to bring feedback to the committee and then on to the executive management team.
What is really important in that whole structure is that you and your management team have to continually demonstrate that you’re listening to your employees, that you’re really hearing them. You have to give them feedback so that they know that you want to hear what they are telling you. You need to be responsive. I do a lot of walk-around managing. It’s what I mostly do. I walk around, get a sense of what is going on, and my employees know that. I know one fact about every employee here. I know something about their family, their kids, their dog, their hobbies, whatever it may be. I know something about them because it shows I’m willing to take an interest in who they are and what they do, even outside of work. Honestly, it’s just caring about them.
Tie everything to the vision. Every decision you make, you have to place it in the context of the vision and values.
For example, back in 2000, I could see the technology changing, in terms of the type of equipment we were going to use. So we made those changes in terms of purchasing equipment. It was about five times more expensive than the technology we had at the time, but these are our values. We’re about leadership, about being thought leaders, about good science, and this is better science, even though it’s more expensive.
We decided that we weren’t going to look at return on investment, cost and profitability. We’re going to do the best science and do it well. If we do that, profits will come. It comes down to what you’re all about in the end, and we’re all about quality science. So that decision to go with the new technology hurt our bottom line, it cost more money, but it paid off because it was the right thing to do. That is what you have to consider as you make decisions that impact your business.
How to reach: American Institute of Toxicology Inc., (317) 243-3894 or www.aitlabs.com