Refer To Your Values In A CrisisBy Jeremy Miller

No company has a crystal ball, but every one has a compass.

Your compass is your values.

They direct you, and help you make smart decisions.

And they can guide you through troubled waters.

In 2010, the most important document at WildPlay Element Parks was their core values.

The company was embroiled in a PR crisis that was not of their making.

One of their franchisees created a media firestorm when it was revealed one of their employees had been conducting unethical practices.

An Unintended Crisis for WildPlay

The challenge for WildPlay was to protect their brand without throwing their franchisee under the bus.

Tom Benson, CEO of WildPlay says:

It was a nightmare. We never imagined we could be dragged into a media crisis. The situation was absolutely contrary to our values, and we felt trapped. The trap was our integrity as partners in business, which is how we see ourselves as a franchisor. The situation forced us to reaffirm our ethics and integrity. We had to choose a path of being very transparent about our position, while not dissing the franchisee—which we’ve never done. We had to find a path that was true to our values.

WildPlay operates aerial adventure parks, such as bungee jumps, zip lines, and aerial courses.

The parks are situated in picturesque areas, and WildPlay encourages people to participate in nature-based recreation.

WildPlay lives and breathes their values. It’s part of what makes their parks so much fun, and brings clients back again-and-again.

But in the midst of a crisis, their values served a much higher purpose.

Tom continues:

Whenever we had an important decision to make we pulled out our core values. It influenced our decision making process, and helped us successfully navigate the crisis.

Ignore Your Values, Crash Your Brand

Strategies can change, but values don’t.

Your company’s values are the glue that hold it together. They form the bonds of your culture, attract the right people, and help you serve your clients.

By being acutely aware of your company’s values also keeps it safe. In the book Brand Driven, LePla et al. present an excellent metaphor on the importance of values. They compare a company to traveling along a river, and the shores of the river are its values.

If you compromise your values you can crash your ship into the shore, and create irreparable damage to your company or even destroy it.

Your values are static, and knowing what they are and where they are will keep your ship on the right course.

WildPlay was fortunate. They had codified their core values prior to the crisis. They had clear documentation of what they believed, and why those values were important. And they could refer to those core values repeatedly through the crisis.

In a crisis, you have to make split-second decisions and respond to unrelenting external forces. And you can be pushed to do things that will leave a lasting mark on your business if you’re not careful.

Having your core values at your fingertips during these crucial decisions gives your team an edge. Instead of reacting strictly with your head, you can respond with your heart.

Four Simple Values

Values are very personal.

Many companies use trite words like “integrity” and “excellence.” The words may sound professional, but they are hollow.

WildPlay’s values speak to their business:

  • Evolve the Guest
  • Nurture the Clan
  • Taste the Dirt
  • Share the Fruit

Each value is packed with meaning, stories, and context.

“Taste The Dirt” may not say much to you and me, but for the WildPlay team, the phrase is packed with meaning.

Anyone on their team can speak to the four values, and what they mean. They can talk about it in their own language, but also draw on the language of their culture.

The values are highly visible. They are prominently displayed throughout their parks, offices, and their website.

Listen to Your Values

It’s hard to slow down and consider your core values in a crisis. You’re going through a supercharged situation, and every moment matters.

But as hard as it might be, pay attention to your values and listen to your heart.

Your values hold your business and your brand together.

If you ignore your values, the crisis will likely get the better of you.

Jeremy Miller

Jeremy Miller is a Brand Builder, Keynote Speaker, and president of Sticky Branding — a brand building agency. Jeremy helps companies challenge the giants of their industry and grow Sticky Brands. His upcoming book, Sticky Branding: 12.5 Principles to Stand Out, Attract Customers and Grow an Incredible Brand, will be published in January 2015

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