Q&A with Dina Dwyer-Owens: Core Values – Dina’s Not so Secret to Success

Co-Chairwoman of Dwyer Group, International Franchise Association Chair, winner of Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, philanthropist, published author, reality TV personality, mother, wife… Dina Dwyer-Owens does it all, and with a high bar.

In 2005, she launched the Live R.I.C.H. campaign to promote the Dwyer Group Code of Values. She also released her book, Live R.I.C.H.: How to Build Success in Your Company & Your Life with a Proven Code of Values and Values, Inc.

Headquartered in Waco, Texas, Dwyer Group includes 18 brands and more than 2,700 franchisees around the world. The service brands make more than 2 million customer calls a year and account for $1.5 billion in system-wide sales.

We were able to catch up with Dina to discuss core values. Why core values? Because Dwyer Group’s Super Franchisor status is built on core values.

How would you define the concept of core values?

Core values are critical to establishing a solid foundation for success within any organization. They outline who you are and what you stand for, and should create clear behavioral expectations.

Why it is important for a company to define these core values?

Well-defined core values provide clarity about what is expected and acceptable within an organization. For example, within our organization, we have found that employees who are unsure what authority they have or don’t have won’t usually take the same sort of risks, won’t “step out there and really go for it” in the same way that employees who understand these boundaries, these defined core values, will. They create alignment on how the business operates. This alignment enables a business to focus on driving towards greater success.

How would a company identify its core values?

A good place to start is by asking some simple questions: Who do we want to be? What do we want to be known for? The answers to these questions sit at the heart of an organization’s value system. Once they have been identified, the leadership team should align themselves and outline a framework for further refinement. Core values begin and end with senior leadership accountability.

Behavior statements, simple language that outlines the manner in which core values will be demonstrated, should then be developed. Many people say that respect is a core value of their organization. What does that really mean? How does an employee know if they are operating respectfully? This is where clear definition and context become crucial.

At Dwyer, for example, we have several values that fall under respect, one would be listening with intent to understand what is being said, and acknowledging what was said is important to the speaker. When we say we want you to be respectful, everyone understands that means when someone else is talking, you need to be listening.

How does leadership demonstrate commitment to core values?

In my experience, 95% of the companies in North America do nothing with their values once they are written. I don’t think it is because they have bad leaders. I think it is because they don’t know how to make core values a way of life, part of the business’ DNA. I’d like to share some of what has worked for us.

Leadership Level Commitment: At our first annual board meeting each year, we talk about which core value we can each improve upon and make a commitment to improve during the year. Cadence: Any time and every time we have a meeting with three or more of our associates (or franchisees), we take a moment at beginning to review at least a few of our values.

Measuring Through Feedback: On a regular basis, ask for feedback. Are we living up to these values in your eyes? How we are doing? We have historically asked our employees and franchisees how we are doing. We review the feedback, select one or two values to focus on improving, and make a concerted effort to change. We also recognize that we will never arrive at perfection.

How do you build a culture around core values?

As you hire, talk about your core values as a way to demonstrate your commitment to them, and ensure those you bring on-board will support and believe in those same values. Make sure your values are believable. Employees need to believe that the leadership team is going to live the values they preach. The leadership team needs to take the lead in the initial creation of core values, but after that, the rest of the team should drive the process of finalizing the values and generating alignment.

Will you share an example of how you have created a culture built around clearly-defined core values?

We “gamified” our values to generate alignment. Our leadership developed a list of core values and requested that employees study them. For a 90-day period, employees were then asked to provide feedback in the form of a verbal “beep.” Any time employees caught a management team member violating a value, they would simply “beep” and then go back to their business. You would have thought the roadrunner lived in our building during that 90-day period, because we were being beeped left and right, but this was good news. It meant that our employees were taking it seriously, and it brought them together. After that 90-day beep came to an end, we asked: What do you think? Do you think this is the solution to keeping our company culture special? The overwhelming response was that they loved it. In fact, they added a value that we hadn’t initially come up with, which was never say anything about anyone you wouldn’t say directly to him or her.

I’d like to offer up a free workbook to help people navigate this process. It is a 6-step process and is available for download on my website at dinadwyerowens.com.

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