From Terry Pearce. Evelyn Dilsaver. and Dan Leemon
We have grown employment by 25 percent a year for the past six years. What this has meant is that only one in four of our people lived all the way through the change. Despite our success, the culture was at risk of being diluted. So we decided to involve the entire company in a “reexamination of our values,” this time in the context of the Internet. We called this event Vision quest. It lasted four hours one Saturday morning and involved all 40,000 people in our organization around the world. We were all hooked together by satellite.
In our company we have always spent a lot of time gathering of our values in action. At one senior management dinner we attended two years before Vision quest, we talked about a number of stories. At the end of the evening each table voted on the ones they liked the best. We decided then and there to use these in new employee orientation and other company events. At Vision Quest, we used three of those stories.
One that particularly stands out, because of the reaction it provoked, was about our value of fairness. A video showed the son of one of our customers standing in front of a house. He told us how his parents had been hit by the crash of ’87 and owed our company money. The task of collecting these debts fell to one of our vice presidents. He went to southern California to talk with the parents about how they would pay the money back. All they had left was an IRA account with us and their home. Both parents were in their late sixties, and neither was in good health. In the end, an arrangement was made that we would take the equity in the house to settle the debt. By agreement, the couple could live in the house until they no longer needed it, at which time it would revert to us. On the video, the son told viewers that we also agreed they could keep the IRA account as a necessary addition to their retirement fund. Our vice president’s empathy and sense of fairness would not allow him to put the parents out of their home.
Now, as stories go, this in itself would have been more than enough to demonstrate what our values are and how we live them. But there was more! On the video, this man told us that a couple of years after the settlement, his father died and his mother continued to live in the house. A few years after that, a fire in that part of southern California burned the house to the ground. We could have taken the insurance money at that point. But appropriately, an entirely different person from the firm assessed the situation in exactly the same way that our vice president had. He helped the woman negotiate a settlement with the insurance company. The house was rebuilt. She moved back into it. When she died five years later, the debt was finally settled. Her son had agreed to make the video for us because he was so grateful that we had cared for them in this way.
I think all of us noticed people in the room respond powerfully to that story. There was one woman who had walked into the conference room, and because it was a Saturday morning, you could tell just by her dress and overall demeanor that she was not particularly happy to be there. After thirty minutes of Vision quest, she put the book down that she had been reading while our CEO did his opening speech. She started to listen. After that particular video she was, like many others, fully engaged in this event. And some people were in tears.
We need to do this sort of thing, and not just once. It has a power that goes far beyond just handing out a statement of our values to all the new hires. It helps all of us remember the special company we have created, a specialness that makes customers want to do business with us and makes great people want to work here.