Thursday 20 September 2018

By insisting on the highest values we can elevate Ireland's future

A strategy where staff matter as much as customers is key for firms and building a better Ireland, writes Greg Clarke

'I firmly believe that when you appreciate and focus on your values as a company, you will not only increase your chances of success but you will accelerate it too.' Stock photo
'I firmly believe that when you appreciate and focus on your values as a company, you will not only increase your chances of success but you will accelerate it too.' Stock photo

Greg Clarke

When I first started out in business more than 30 years ago, or even when I founded Digicom 21 years ago, I could not have envisaged that I would consider our business values to be just as - if not more - important than margins or profit measurement.

But, today, I credit the success of Digicom in recent years - overall growth, increased staff retention, improved client satisfaction and increased revenues and margins - to the fact that we have built our business strategy around shared core values where employees matter as much as customers.

We strive to live and breathe those values every day in how we treat each other, how we approach our work and how we treat our clients. I fundamentally believe that by putting staff first, Digicom as a business will ultimately look after our clients first.

Many of us, including myself, attend leadership training or study leadership courses. The real benefit of these is in their practical day-to-day application, not the participation. At Digicom, over the last three to four years, we have rebuilt how we lead, identifying what is important to our culture and all employees.

Our values include teamwork, respect, integrity, customer service excellence, innovation and continuous learning. These drive all our key decisions such as recruitment, employee feedback and appraisal sessions, as well as how we measure and celebrate successes.

As a result, our latest employee satisfaction survey shows that 74pc of employees are satisfied or very satisfied with their work at Digicom, a big improvement from the 47pc recorded the previous year.

I firmly believe that when you appreciate and focus on your values as a company, you will not only increase your chances of success but you will accelerate it too.

This has been demonstrated by Dr Fred Kiel who, in research published in 2015 in the Harvard Business Review, found that leaders with high character scores, as ranked by their employees, delivered stronger business performances. In fact, a company with a "high-ranking" leader would deliver up to five times greater return on investment than other leaders.

This was regardless of age, length of tenure or political belief of the individual. Employees were also happier and more loyal to businesses led by higher-ranked leaders. Leaders who received the lowest rankings in terms of character had lower business performances and employees who were not as happy or productive.

But leadership is not just about business. As I've gotten older and become more aware of the values that are central to my life, I've been able to harness their strength and impact not only at work but also in the community. For example, for the last 10 years I've coached juvenile girls and boys at GAA and soccer. It is in sport that we often first come across values such as teamwork and respect. We coach our players that leadership is not just measured on success, it's also about the path taken.

It is for this reason that I became involved with a new initiative, Lift Ireland, which aims to improve the country we live in by raising our standards of leadership.

I believe that leadership, whether in work, the classroom, at home, or in the community such as on the GAA pitch, is one of the most powerful skills we can learn and that if enough of us are working together in the same direction, we have the potential to turn Ireland from good, to great.

That's why Digicom, along with 23 other organisations from across the country, is delighted to support Lift by being a founding partner.

By engaging with businesses across the country, community, sports, arts and other organisations, Lift aims to get Ireland talking about values and leadership, to build greater self awareness in all of us that informs our decision-making.

The power of the initiative lies in how we all work together as each participating organisation and individual lifts themselves and those around them. I see this work in my own business as we endeavour to hold each other to account with our six values. I saw it when I was President of Dublin Chamber, how businesses with a shared vision can work together to achieve their goal. Imagine how powerful this can be then, if all across society, as Lift proposes, we spend time to consider what's important to us and how to best achieve it.

Well, you might say, lots of people have good ideas and want to see changes. There are two reasons why I believe Lift will succeed in making a difference. The first is the evidence from my own business that values-based leadership has improved all of our measurements from growth and margins to employee retention and client satisfaction. As with our approach at Digicom, I believe that if Lift invests the time and expertise in looking after our people's values in Ireland, we will get 'Ireland Inc' right.

The second reason I believe in Lift is because of the leadership in the organisation and its non-profit set-up. Lift is led by Joanne Hession, who has brought on board a range of Ireland's leading businesses and organisations to support the process. Alongside my team at Digicom is the ESB, AIB, Enterprise Ireland, CPL, Musgrave Group, Paypal and many others. Then we also have organisations such as the GAA, the Irish Girl Guides Association, the Peter McVerry Trust, and The Teaching Council, all of which already play such important roles in teaching values to our children in our communities. Their involvement means that Lift can support the work they already do, rather than seeking to build a separate network.

In life, as in business, everything comes down to people. If as a country, we can drive a great awareness of our values, we can improve the engagement of people in decisions that affect all of us. We might see greater numbers voting in our elections. It could be that as a society we will support our politicians to make bold decisions that are future-based rather than proposing short-term 'band aids' on immediate problems.

Most of us desire to do something positive, to improve our future as a nation. By working together across the country, Lift offers a real chance to achieve this.

Greg Clarke is founder and chief executive of Digicom liftireland.ie

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