Friday, April 5, 2013

How Important are Corporate Values?


Do We Really Need Corporate Values?

  Something caught my eye with regard to the Barclays scandal. It was the term: cultural corruption. I'm so used to skimming over details about complex derivative issues, that it made me curious to read more.
What was identified as cultural corruption was that Barclay's had pursued a 'revenue at all costs' strategy, fostered a culture of fear and intimidation, were actively hostile to compliance with banking rules, presided over a 'broken culture' where problems were ignored or buried, and ultimately allowed the business to 'spin out of control'.
That pursuing revenue at all costs has been highlighted as corrupt signifies the importance of corporate values. We all need to pursue revenue to some degree, but doing so 'at all costs' can ultimately end in disaster, as with Barclays.
When I explain to people that my work has a strong focus on delivering workshops on Vision, Mission & Values, I am often told how naive I am, and that ultimately corporations are only interested in the money. My argument is that the 'only' needs to be taken away. All businesses are profit driven in one way or another, but without a corporate culture that embraces even the most basic of values, they are headed for trouble.
Fostering a culture of fear and intimidation is not something unique to Barclays. From large organisations to the smaller family run business, I have witnessed this over the years as being almost endemic. Often during workshops and training interventions I've had a rosy view of the organisation, then when it came to one to one coaching sessions where individuals felt themselves to be in a safe environment, another story would emerge. I often got to hear alarming examples of the business not living it's principles. I also heard some fantastic ideas that were never put forward, all due to fear. People fear losing their jobs, bonuses, promotion opportunities and at times even subtle things such as shifts, break times and vacation approval. Bullying and harassment also effects self esteem and confidence, causing people to feel unsure and less likely to pose a challenge to superiors. This type of resignation is not only a heartbreaking let down for humanity, it is also destructive for the organisation, not only from a legal perspective.
I've noticed there is a paradigm shift in our attitude to business ethics when we now see cultural reforms up there on the top of the to-do list.
I worked for a company once where it was my job to workshop the business leadership principles with all new hires on the management team. I was impressed.  Impressed, that is, until my boss told me that the leadership principles were 'good in theory, but nobody uses them.' He told me that actually, within the company it was more important what got done than how it got done. I soon realised that I may as well have been making sand mandalas with the new hires, and, coupled with a culture of fear and intimidation, stating my opinion meant that luckily I didn't last long there. That  organisation have since had extremely bad press with regard to how they treat their people, along with very high fluctuation.
Despite all that, they are still an international hugely successful organisation. And it is important to note that as far as I am aware, they are not operating any scams. But the bottom line is, if a company doesn't foster a culture based on it's corporate values, it is only a matter of time until the fallout  from this will force it to rethink it's strategy.  High fluctuation, low morale and financial setbacks are the cost when it comes to double standards in corporate culture.
So what values do we need to live by in our modern organisations? How about: Communication, Respect, Integrity & Excellence. Sound good? Four essential values that could be the axis of any organisation. Oh wait, we need to live them, not name them. After all, these were Enron's core values!

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