Where did our values come from?

As we approach our 10 years anniversary I realise that not everyone knows the origins of the way we do things. Megan, the RedBalloon employee experience manager, asked me to document where our values came from.

Our values are such an integral part of life at RedBalloon – and they have been a part of us for nine of the 10 years.

Kirsten Munachen, our business development manager at the time and I attended Verne Harnish’s first Rockafeller Habits seminar in Sydney. Both of us were incredulous and inspired to discover what amazing resources were available to RedBalloon in its start-up phase – we were not alone – others had travelled this path before. We could learn from other great businesses.

Verne’s key message was about vision, values and alignment (though he might not have used that language). It was Kirsten and I who at that workshop identified our sense of purpose.

Jim Collins in his book Good to Great says that great organisations have a set of values they truly embrace. It does not matter what those values are, but that the organisation has them, and lives by them.

A great way to discover an organisation’s values is to explore the folklore of the business. It is the people and their actions that create the stories that make a business what it is.

As Kirsten and I sat around the table we had a good laugh as we talked about what made RedBalloon, RedBalloon. What was a true RedBallooner?

We wrote down a whole lot of stories and then we grouped them together in similar topics, We didn’t want too many, and we wanted them to be memorable. So this is what we came up with in 2003, and they continue to serve us very well.

Do what you say you’re going to do (integrity).

Kirsten and I both talked about our frustration at working in large businesses and how often it was our managers who did not follow through. We (and most of the other RedBallooners at the time) had done the personal development course Landmark Forum and we all had learned about how integrity and the strength of one’s word is very powerful.

We did not want to be just another organisation that “tried” to fulfill on what it promised. Simply we were going to put our word to it… and get it done. Kirsten gave the example of working with Fuji Xerox as our first corporate client, and they asked us to build a special system for them as an incentive program. We did not have the capability at the time. I put my word to it – and said “we don’t have it now but we will by July” and though I didn’t know how I was going to make it happen – we delivered – and Fuji Xerox went on to be a great and ongoing corporate customer.

Generosity of our time and knowledge.

Obviously we are in the gifting business so it would make sense that “generosity” is one of our values. Both of us had been frustrated with automated telephone services of large organisation (for many years we resisted voicemail because I insisted we answer phones). Beth Kyle answered phones as part of her role (not so formal as our customer experience team now) and one day she had a very upset customer on the phone because her partner was in Kalgoorlie and she did not know how to get him his gift (this was before we had email vouchers). Beth contacted her brother who from time to time had to go to Kalgoorlie from Perth for business and she convinced him to drive the voucher out to the customer. Unbelievably generous and legendary customer service. Folklore was created.

Leadership.

We had both seen bottlenecks in corporate life when projects stalled because no one would make a decision. We wanted everyone to feel like an “owner” and that they could get things done. One of our colleagues at the time Mark Deurden, ColdFusion developer, exemplified leadership. We could come back from a client or potential partner meeting and say “Can we have..?” he would always answer “Of course – it will just take time and money”. He had an unbelievable ‘”can do” attitude. Sometimes he had no idea how he was going to build what we had invented… but he went off and discovered it. And always took responsibility for the outcome.

Having a sense of humour and being fun.

I had worked in some pretty serious places – I had also worked at Apple. At Apple we worked hard and played hard. And I always went home thinking my day had been worthwhile. I wanted to work at a place that I wanted to work in. It might sound selfish, but if I was going to choose to be away from my children then it had better be worthwhile.

We laughed a lot in the early days… I think we still do. We never took ourselves to seriously. If ever I got a bit dramatic about something, Kirsten would remind me “Did anyone die? Then it is all okay…”

Being a little dog with a big dog attitude.

This was about being risk takers, flexible and courageous. This came from picking up the phone and talking to anyone. Kirsten would pick up the phone with such an air of authority when talking to potential corporate clients. And the majority of the time she got the appointment; she was like a terrier dog – once she got hold of an idea she wouldn’t let go – she was feisty and determined. Most of all it was the contractors and Kathy Mason who endlessly and relentlessly pursued potential suppliers. We often felt we had to “beg” to do business with them. Dexter never seemed worried about our relative smallness… he treated everyone as an equal – and so did we.

Those days were so very different, yet I am so proud that the essence of who we are remains.

Naomi Simson is considered one of Australia’s ‘Best Bosses’. She is an employee engagement advocate and practices what she preaches in her own business. RedBalloon has been named as one of only six Hewitt Best Employers in Australia and New Zealand for 2009 and awarded an engagement scorecard of over 90% two years in a row – the average in Australian businesses is 55%. RedBalloon has also been nominated by BRW as being in the top 10 Best Places to Work in Australia behind the likes of Google. One of Australia’s outstanding female entrepreneurs, Naomi regularly entertains as a passionate speaker inspiring people on employer branding, engagement and reward and recognition. Naomi writes a blog and is a published author – and has received many accolades and awards for the business she founded – RedBalloon.com.au.

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