Honesty and integrity should be the foundation of any company — and at the heart of its core spirit.

Without a doubt, we are experiencing some of the most challenging and stressful times that most of us have seen in our lifetime. First, there is the continuing severe downturn in the housing market that so many in our industry depend on, and then there was the global economic meltdown last fall and the further deterioration of the economy. On top of that, there is a seemingly never-ending stream of bills working their way through Congress that are sure to affect our industry.

This month I want to briefly look at how your company is prepared to cope with these challenges that seem to grow in number each day. This is no small management matter as you try to deal with the day-to-day pressures of your job as a supervisor, manager or CEO. On top of all of this, a changing business climate necessitates that we make adjustments (changes) in the way we conduct business — and you must deal with that.

In my 30 years in management in our industry, and during the past 12 years in my consulting firm, I have confirmed the single most important secret of success: This is simply the attitude of management and of the people within your company that can be defined as the core spirit of the company. Most readers would say that they already know that, so the challenge is putting what you know to work.

Your Company’s Core Spirit

Back in November of last year, I wrote on the importance of having an attitude of looking at the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. While this is important, the attitudes necessary to comprise a healthy core spirit go beyond just being positive in the way you look at challenges — they are the values that all of those in the company share. Sometimes these core values are written in a way to communicate them to others, and this is a good idea. However, the core spirit of your company will actually be determined by the actions of the top managers and supervisors of the company, and not by their publication alone.

It is how you and others in management act every day that influences the way your associates think and work. Whether or not you realize it, your world view is reflected in everything you do during your workday — and those around you are watching. Your actions speak louder than your words and have a profound effect on all of your associates. Take a look at the list of corporate values in the sidebar below before reading further.

Corporate values & beliefs

The Core Spirit of your company is formed by the values that the top management of your company lives by. These values should include the following 12 beliefs:

1. The integrity of the company and its associates is the foundation upon which all else is built.

2. The employees (associates) within your company are your most important assets.

3. Every individual is equal to the other in every respect and no job is more important than another.

4. The ideas of your associates are treasures to be discovered and used for positive change.

5. Never criticize or condemn anyone or any of their ideas or suggestions.

6. Listen 90% of the time.

7. Hold your opinion until you have heard from all and have done your homework.

8. Trust others and allow yourself to be vulnerable.

9. Freely compliment others when deserved.

10. Continuous positive change (Continuous Improvement) is good for the company.

11. What is good for the company is good for each company associate.

12. Empower those who share these values.

The foundation of any company should be its sincere dedication to honesty and integrity in all of its dealings — including those with associates, suppliers and customers. After this, what you say and do will correctly be perceived as truth and the management of your company will gain the respect and trust. This, in itself, will lead to credibility in the rest of your core values and in your goals and objectives.

One value that is necessary, and that unions hate to see, is the sincere belief that your associates (your employees) are the most important assets that you have and that every one of them is equal to the other in every respect. This means that no job is considered more important than another, but rather all employees must work together as equals in order for the company to thrive and provide job security for all.

Furthermore, every idea of every associate is of equal importance. Granted, some will prove more valuable than others, but to be consistent, you must realize that each idea is important to the individual that presents it and is worthy of a receptive ear and due consideration. You should look at the minds of your associates as the place where treasures are buried — just waiting to be discovered. Thus, no one should criticize or condemn any idea or suggestion, because within it may lie a treasure that can become the cornerstone of a re-engineering effort within your company.

I have learned that it is better to humbly listen 90 percent of the time and hold my opinion until I have heard from all and have done all of my homework. This is consistent with all of the previous values stated above, and any effective manager knows this is the best way to learn where the root causes of challenges lie. When you are involved in the exchange of ideas and the ensuing investigations, be willing to be vulnerable and accept criticism. Compliment others for their openness and participation. A pat on the back and an at-a-boy go a long way in building a healthy core spirit.

Shaping Your Company’s Culture

All of the above set the tone for the management of your company to openly embrace the idea that continuous positive change is essential for success today. If you have built the trust and integrity I mentioned above, it will not be difficult for you to explain to your associates why continuous improvement is good for the company and good for them as well.

I have explained this dozens of times to groups of employees and without exception they have agreed. After all, they are smart and realize that they now have a voice and a way to help shape their own future.

The last core belief that you must embrace and openly demonstrate is to empower those within your company who share the values mentioned above. As you do, others will embrace these values and the core spirit will solidify and become so strong that a culture of change or continuous improvement will evolve.

As I have written before, this is the culture that will allow you to make the changes necessary to meet the challenges mentioned in the opening paragraph above. Unfortunately, many managers within the wood products industry today just don’t get this point. You simply cannot re-engineer or transform a marginal company into a vibrant competitor without this culture created with the values mentioned within this article.

Managing the Culture

No doubt there are some readers who have allowed the culture of their company to deteriorate into one of a defeatist attitude full of worriers and whiners.

Times are tough today — there is no disputing that. But times like these demand creative thinking and innovation. Your company is unique with its own challenges, and it begs that you empower your associates to make the changes necessary based on their individual and collective knowledge and experience.

Re-engineering a company demands a healthy core-spirit and a resulting culture of continuous improve to be successful. To try to embark on such change without a compatible culture will only guarantee failure and result in disappointment and frustration. Remember, as a manager, you must set goals and objectives and be open in the process. You must set priorities and use the resources you have to implement the changes necessary to achieve your stated goals in an orderly fashion.

Each reader needs to resolve to become a winner and not a whiner — to recognize that it is time to promote positive change and to equip your company with a culture of Rapid Continuous Improvement. There is no alternative and there is no other time more appropriate than now. The economy will improve. The question is: Will you be ready when it does?

Tom Dossenbach is the president of Dossenbach Associates Inc., a Sanford, NC-based international consulting and research firm. Contact him at (919) 775-5017 or e-mail tfd@dossenbach.com.

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