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The Values that Guide Our Shops

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What is at the core of your shop culture?  What have you decided to be for, or against? What values are guiding your shop into the future?

I started my columns this year in similar territory. Even though my first love in business is marketing, I have found myself reflecting over and over again this year on bigger questions of leadership, culture and values. November marked my shop’s 10th year in business and something about that big, round number has captured my imagination. It seems like a good time to reflect back on the progress we’ve made and the challenges ahead—and plan for the years to come.

For my shop, we have decided to put generosity at the core of our business, and the story below is part of the fabric of why we chose this value to guide our business.

Several years ago, my family travelled to Guatemala to visit some missionary friends. While there, we had some of the most amazing experiences of our lives. We hiked up an active volcano that literally burned the soles of our shoes the higher we climbed and came within a few feet of red-hot lava. We shopped in Antigua, a beautiful colonial-styled city with old cathedrals and street vendors. We visited Lake Atitlan, a place that philosopher Aldous Huxley called the most beautiful place on Earth. With deep blue waters, surrounded on all sides by soaring volcanic mountains, it truly is a remarkable place.

We also got to see the crux of our friends’ work in the poorest slum in all of Central America, a place called La Limonada, which has a river of sewage that runs right through the middle of it. This shantytown is riddled with gang violence, drugs, untreated illnesses, trash, and poorly constructed “homes” often made of cardboard and other discarded materials. My friends worked at a school with children who face the most abject poverty every day. The school is about much more than education. It also feeds two meals each day, provides clothes and teaches basic hygiene by expecting students to brush their teeth every day at school.

The school impressed us, especially the staff that live very sacrificially so these kids have a chance to escape the cycle of poverty most of them would be stuck in without some help. The staff is mostly made up of Guatemalans, who themselves grew up in this neighborhood, supplemented by some teachers and helpers who come to help from other places including the U.S.

While there, my wife and I discovered that most of the staff had never been to Lake Atitlan, even though it was only a short drive away. Why? They couldn’t afford it. When we got home, my wife and I made plans to get them there and discovered that for $2,000, the whole school staff (over 20 people) and all of the helpers could get to Lake Atitlan and have food and lodging covered. It was a no-brainer. We had to do this. So for Christmas a couple of years ago, we gave them this well-deserved respite. I sent the school $2,000 as a gift from our shop, so the staff could have a long weekend away to rejuvenate at Lake Atitlan.

The staff sent us thank-you letters afterward expressing how much they needed the break and how much it meant to them to get away and see this beautiful place. It brought us to tears that such a small gift could mean so much.

The challenge for me recently has been to translate this deep value for generosity to the rest of my team at Center City Collision. It finally dawned on me this week that one key way to instill this into our shop culture is to get them involved in giving. So I decided to do mini matching grants to any employee that gives money to a nonprofit of their choosing. The shop will match it up to $250. This way, the generosity starts with them, but links the shop and their daily work.

It would be hard to argue against generosity as an important value for any shop to have. But does it really make good business sense?

The business value can be summarized by one word: engagement. You will find a more engaged workforce and more engaged customers. Team members will start to sense they are part of something bigger than themselves and even bigger than your shop. It adds a larger sense of contribution and purpose.

So, what part of your culture are you working on, and how do you help employees align with your values?

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