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Values are for Real, seriously?

Salto Dee Fe started 5 years ago and I needed to define the direction in which it will go. The three of us who started the company (Nitin, Garima and self) sat in a conference room lent to us by our friend and well-wisher Varun Talwar. Varun had given us the liberty to use his office till we had our own. And in our early months, that is where we met as a team. Varun was generous.

On a bright sunny day we sat in a tiny room and started brainstorming. What did we want this consulting firm to do? What will we not do? How will we treat our customers? How will we treat ourselves? How will we make money? How much money we want to make? We wanted to find our purpose, our north star which is not confined by limits of time, one which can stand the vagaries of any kind of future. Many answers gushed in and swarmed us but the one appealed to us and could stand scrutiny for years to come was, "Solve People Problems". We wanted to create a consulting firm to solve all kinds of people problems. But why should we solve people problems and for whom? We would like to confine ourselves only to the corporate world for the moment and we wanted to do this to help two of the biggest stakeholders in the business; employees and shareholders. So let us solve people problems for employees and shareholders, to improve engagement for employees and increase productivity for management. We wanted the vision to appeal to our customers and employees and we wanted it to inspire us for the times to come. People problems exist irrespective of the industry and shape/size of the organisation. Solving People problems is forever and we want to wrestle with these tricky problems.

We laid out our vision "Solve people problems to enhance engagement and improve productivity". OK, one problem solved.

So what are some of the values we want to work with on our journey to realise our vision. The rules we want to play with, the boundaries we want to set for ourselves. These values needed to be appealing to employees. We set out defining them, do we really want to work for our customer’s betterment or our own? Should we confine our words and deliveries to contracts and what was agreed with the customer or we really want to delight our customers each time we interact with them. Should they see value in each of our interactions or only few times when we were delivering a solution. What if they did not agree to or happy with our solution? What will do? Will we cringe and look at our cost and say that we have delivered as per our contract and what we agreed? Or will we do our best to delight our customers. We wanted to establish some path breaking principles in the less defined workspace of consulting. We asked ourselves the question what would we expect if we were the customers and then the answers started flowing easily, we will like our consultant to work with us to create a solution which will benefit us and not worry about billables and monies first. That gave birth to our first value 'Abundance'. We want to have a big heart and give more than what we receive in value terms every time. We will go out of our way to delight our customers just like we expect our service providers to do. In case our customer was not happy with our solutions the first time, we will recreate a new solution without asking for more money or waving contract terms in front of our customer. We will go out of our way to build a solution customer is looking for. Is that not what the customer engaged us to do in the first place? We go by the principle that there is enough to in the world for all of us to share. We will in all conditions try to enhance the market size and make the cake bigger for all of us. We will try to put as much of our knowledge and models on our website for people to benefit as we can without causing harm to ourselves and without putting anything client confidential there. We will be happy to give our customers their money back in the rare case they are still not satisfied with our second solution we created for them. While we do all this, we will be fair to both our firm and the customer. We will not be foolish and we will not be greedy. We will always ask the question, “If I was the customer, will this meet my expectation?” And always have a slightly lenient position and bigger heart than our customer while dealing with any conflict situation. We will live by this principle.

This is all fine for customers, what about employees? Well, if we can do it for customers, what is stopping us from doing it for our employees? What changes when we align the same value to our employees? If we are looking for employees to deal with abundance with our customers, we should first role model this value to our employees. We will have bigger hearts with our employees and give them a fair share or rather a slightly bigger share than they deserve. So, it was done, we will have Abundance as our first value and it felt good.

The second question we tried to grapple was dealing with customers and employees on a daily basis. So when we want to deal with each other and our customers, how should we deal? Again we turned to the acid test of how would we like to be dealt with. The answer was relatively easy, “with a smile”. So we went ahead with our second value ‘Cheerfulness’. If you come to your client workplace or meeting place with anything else than a smile, what are your bringing along and how do you plan to tackle her issues/problems, with a grouch? Do you want to bring along a grudge, a frown and visibly upset face or a cheerful smile? Well you have guessed it right, we went ahead and swore to live by our second value of Cheerfulness. Now we were excited, this is really coming out well and answering some of the tricky question one grapples with when dealing with everyday interactions at workplace. How about being cheerful with each other? I will most surely like to see a cheerful face when we meet each other in office or outside. So we concluded on Cheerfulness as our second value.

What else did we leave out? What else will we like to tackle while we set up an organization? There are thousands of interactions happening involving all of us in an organisation on a daily basis. An organisation cannot oversee each transaction nor guide it in a direction it would like it to go. How do we tackle this? We dug into some ancient wisdom of Indian philosophy. The answer was staring at us all the time, we just needed to pick up the word. So we did something bold and picked up one of the tricky words of way of life in India, 'Dharm' for an easy understanding in English, "Dharma". Dharma is a tricky word and does not have an easy singular definition and that was perfect, since we were not looking for a perfect defining answer but a guidance. Dharma is that guidance. It says look at the context and talk to your conscience to find the right answer in that moment. How easy to establish a guideline with such a simple word. There is not one defined answer, look at the context and talk to your conscience to find the right answer. Sometimes you may like to talk to a collective conscience by talking to some more people in the organisation about the situation and context. Dharma builds accountability for you to take action and find answers. So it was decided that we will have 'Dharma" as our third value.

We will do the right thing for our stakeholders in any given situation and look at all the fronts; employees, customer, shareholders and society at large before taking decisions. We will look at the long term but will not sacrifice the short term. It is looking for profits in the future but not burning cash foolishly today.

There was something still missing, it was gnawing at us and asking us to look at some more situations and also the work we want to do. We looked at one of the most common values held by a lot of corporations across the world, "Excellence". We liked the word. We want all our employees to do an excellent piece of work each time and be proud to put your signature on it, proud of showcasing it. We bounced the word around a bit and tossed it in our head. It felt right. It gave us many answers about the quality question, why would clients come back to us and stick with us. Why will they give us repeat business and what is our focus? Our belief is that is we do excellent work, our customer has no reason to go and look for someone else to get it done. Excellence once becomes a habit, sticks with us forever.

Interestingly the values we end up choosing are as easy as ABCDE. They are worth remembering and easy to recall. It passed our own test of easy recall, all by chance.

We have been living those values and everyday we test ourselves against those. Whenever we are in hot water with a client, we look at those values and see if we are being true to those. These values keep us in the game and make sure that we play it with our heart and not only our head. Whenever we have to deal with tricky issues of employee motivation, tasks, bonuses and increments we defer to the value of abundance and cheerfulness while keeping the excellence benchmark for work in place. Are we giving our best on a daily basis? Are we bringing our excellence selves to work with a smile everyday? Are we being still cheerful even if our clients are turning our proposals down? I think we are. There are numerous examples where our clients vouch for our values, 45% of our current clients are our repeat customers and 25% have given us business for the 3rd time in 5 years.

I am not sure about everyone and every organisation but for us these values help us define ourselves on a daily basis.

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