Virtually every company I have worked with has a set of values listed somewhere. So much has been written and read about corporate values that it’s unusual these days for an organization not to create that list at some point during it’s origin or as it grows. The philosophy is sound, building a set of principles that are designed to guide the company in all it does and to help people in the organization with a framework for making decisions. “If it doesn’t align with our values, don’t do it” is a strong message that helps people define the culture and the personality of the company. The challenge lies in the gap between constructing the list of values and building a company that lives them.
Here’s a real-world example of what I consider a pretty solid list of values that would benefit any company who lived them on a daily basis:
We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don’t belong here.
Integrity: We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, then we won’t do it.
Communication: We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people.
Excellence: We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be.
Unfortunately, those values were created by a company called Enron. Even though they were chiseled in marble in the lobby of the Enron headquarters, they weren’t the foundation for how business was done. My guess is that there were many people in the organization that did live these values. But there were too many at the top of the company who didn’t, evidenced by the fact that the guy who sent the memo out heralding these values and the company’s commitment to them, was convicted for 10 counts of fraud.
The principles you choose to run a business on are important, making them part of the culture after you choose them is more important. If leaders in the organization are seen violating the values, they are giving everyone else in the organization permission to cast them aside as well, no matter how deeply they are chiseled in the marble.
Enron is a catastrophic example but in many organizations there are smaller examples that erode the credibility of leaders on a daily basis. Leaders say they want a company that listens and communicates well but then they conduct meetings as if what they say is more important that what others in the organization think. Leaders say they want excellence, commitment, or collaboration but then work as if command, control or speed are more important.
Every day leaders make choices that cause people around them to change their perspective on what really matters in the business. Those choices send messages that are much louder than the reading of a memo or the poster in the hallway. The leader’s actions are what really chisel the values into the company culture.
Do the leaders in your business adhere to the values of the organization or do they send a different message about what really matters most?