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In business, your culture is the soul of the organization.
The soul is the essence or the moral force of a person, their emotional or intellectual energy. It’s the part of you that consists of your mind, character, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.
Translate that to your company, and it becomes a good proxy definition for culture. The culture embodies the soul of the organization. As I mentioned in a previous post, we know that Culture = Values + Behavior. Core values are the fundamental beliefs of an organization. Further clarified, they become guiding principles, which dictate behaviors and can help people understand the difference between right and wrong.
But what happens when your executives’ and your employees’ behaviors don’t align with your values? Bad things. Here are some examples, taking us back to the financial crisis of 2007-2008.
- Take a look at Enron. Enron’s core values were: integrity, communication, respect, and excellence. But their leaders destroyed the company and went to jail for fraud.
- I’ve searched for MCI-WorldCom’s values, but the company is gone, and so are any traces of their core values.
- I couldn’t find Lehman Brothers’ values either, but I found plenty of articles talking about their toxic culture. And I did find an article stating that executives and employees were rewarded for taking risks – at all costs. That led to fudging the books, as well. So, integrity and ethical behaviors went out the window.
- If you take a look at Goldman Sach’s principles and standards, you’ll see the first one states that they do everything in the best interest of their customers – and the last one on the page is all about honesty and integrity. And yet, they admitted to defrauding investors in 2008.
- Merrill Lynch’s principles, which were replaced by Bank of America’s core values when they acquired Merrill Lynch, were all about teamwork, client focus, integrity, and more. Merrill Lynch was headed in the same direction as Lehman Brothers because it carried a lot of the same toxic debt/assets.
Do you have any more-recent examples? Maybe not a total fail but some bad outcomes of not living your core values? Perhaps Uber? Others with similar issues/stories?
What’s my point?
It’s not to belabor the mistakes of those who failed – and failed badly.
The point is this: values are meaningless unless they inspire and drive the behavior that you expect your employees and executives (they’re not exempt!) to display. In other words, your core values mean nothing if everyone in the company doesn’t live them.
Is there a reason that employees aren’t living them? Are the values regularly-communicated, not just posters on a wall? Is it time to revisit them? Once values are defined, they must be communicated regularly, and they must be reinforced. They can – and should – be updated as the business evolves or changes.
If you don’t know your company’s values, if they aren’t a driving force behind your culture – or if you believe they aren’t the soul of your organization – it’s time to dust them off and put them in the spotlight where they belong. Don’t have any core values? Make sure everyone understands why they are critical to the organization, to the employee experience, to the customer experience, to your culture – and then make the time to get the important task of developing them on the docket right away.
It’s the job of any business owner to be clear about the company’s nonnegotiable core values. They’re the riverbanks that help guide us as we refine and improve on performance and excellence. A lack of riverbanks creates estuaries and cloudy waters that are confusing to navigate. I want a crystal-clear, swiftly-flowing stream. -Danny Meyer