“Values are the bedrock of any corporate culture. As the essence of a company’s philosophy for achieving success, values provide a sense of common direction for all employees and guidelines for day-to-day behavior…often companies succeed because their employees can identify, embrace, and act on the values of the organization.” — Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy, Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life
Early in my career I found work that was a great fit for my skills and interests. I grew and moved through the company to ever-higher levels of responsibility. I was especially lucky to be mentored by a senior manager who coached and developed my skills, and brought out more potential in me than I realized I had at the time. Her trust and faith in me built my confidence and a strong foundation for future growth.
After one promotion that would take me across the country to manage the company’s largest branch, I spent a week introducing John, the new president (he was also new to me, since he came from another part of the company), to the various field managers I served and supported with my internal training and consulting work.
It quickly became embarrassing to be with him. He was an obnoxious boor who had all the answers – often to questions he wasn’t even asked. His personal time management was a joke. One morning, at the time we were to leave for a meeting, I had to rouse him from bed by pounding on his hotel room door (he’d been “out on the town” the night before). His honesty and ethics were questionable…and he was an elitist who treated front line team members as “the little people.”
I subsequently moved 2,000 miles away from him and head office to assume new responsibilities at one of our branch offices. Since he was clearly an out-of-sight-out-of-mind manager I was thankful for the distance that separated us. But since I did report to him, I was still obliged to maintain contact through periodic phone conversations and occasional meetings.
During one of those meetings, some 12 months after moving from head office, we talked about the state of the company and his activities over the past year. I’d been hearing stories of his awful management behavior and the deteriorating condition of the whole Canadian operation. His stories of “conquests,” conflicts, “housecleaning,” and frustrations with the “unbelievable number of idiots out there” confirmed my worst fears. This guy was a disaster. My initial assessment of him had been, if anything, too charitable.
John did me a big favor that afternoon in his office. His complete lack of leadership and subsequent performance problems confirmed my growing belief in “people power.” Since I couldn’t in good conscience belong to a management team that had a leader like this guy, I decided it was time for me to move on…I had been contemplating a career move into the training and consulting field. The huge mismatch between John’s values and mine gave me the push I needed to take a new look at what was important to me in life and rethink my career direction. A few months later I joined forces with Art McNeil to build The Achieve Group (it became Canada’s largest training and consulting firm over the next decade). Later I heard that many of John’s leadership chickens (or perhaps turkeys) came home to roost. He was fired.
My need to work for an organization with values similar to my own is far from unique. More than half of the 2,300 respondents surveyed at 50 top business schools were willing to take a 10-percent or greater salary reduction to work at a company that had values consistent with their own. And when second-year students were asked to choose among 10 criteria for job selection, the overall choice was “values that are similar to mine” (number one with women; number two with men, after financial compensation).
My files continue to fill with studies that show the benefits of values-based leadership. One Boston College study, for example, examined the eight-year performance of 30 “socially conscious” companies. Those companies performed 106 percent better than their peer group.
And according to a report entitled “Round Table on Public and Private Sector Ethics,” produced by the Conference Board of Canada for Public Works and Government Services Canada, “Companies that spend money to develop and enforce a code of ethics will outperform their competitors.”