PonderThis: Google in Egypt- Testing Corporate Values

I have often railed here about the cynicism and negativity created by hollow corporate values.  But today we get to see the power of a core principal when it survives the stress test.

Google has a lot at stake in Egypt.  It remains to be seen if the uprising, in part started and led by their executive, Wael Ghonim, will fail or drive Hosni Mubarak from the seat of power he has occupied for decades.  But even faced with the possibility of losing the Egyptian market and any others that cascade from a bad ending for the protesters, Google is taking their core value, “Don’t be Evil” seriously.

This is not a surprise.  Rather than buckle to China’s censorship rules, Google left.  And let’s not be too Pollyanna-like here.  Losing a market the size of China or Egypt has a serious impact on revenue and share.  So what does Google get for the cost of sticking by “Don’t be evil” even (and especially) when it is hard?

Whether the uprising is a win, lose or draw, the Google’s employees are likely to be proud of the stand that the organization has taken.  Only time will tell how this event and others like it to come will impact culture.  Some extremists on company blogs think that Google should be doing more to support Ghonim.  But my bet is that supporting their executive’s right to take a courageous stand and a leadership role in making history will pay rich dividends.  Google has been careful to publicize that Ghonim is acting as a private citizen.  They are not exactly thumping their chest with pride over his actions- but neither have they done what most US companies would have- told him to stay out of it and keep his mind on cash flow.

But even with this balanced response, the core value that Google trumpets, “Don’t be evil” is made credible even when it is hard.  Values are easy to write and easy to support in times of plenty and calm.  But they prove their mettle, and that of the enterprise, when they are tested in tough times.

The WSJ’s John Bussey summarized the usual response from US businesses doing business on the global stage:

As the world marveled this week at the remarkable story of Wael Ghonim, the Google manager who helped organize a popular rebellion in Egypt, a great sigh of relief could be heard rising from much of the rest of American business:

“I’m glad,” came the exhale, “the guy doesn’t work for us.”

What does your company’s core value say about you?  What would it mean to live by that value if it was your employee fomenting revolution against what may be a restrictive regime that is also customer?

Those of us who work with corporate values regularly know the cynicism caused by well written but meaningless values.  Enron’s Statement of Values (as published in their 1998 annual report) is famously quoted with derision and irony.  But it remains an excellent exercise to take your values down off the wall on a regular basis and ask if you would stand by them even if it cost the firm money.    Here are a few other useful questions to help you test your relationship and commitment to your organization’s values:

  • If I were starting a new business tomorrow, would I adopt this value no matter what the industry?
  • Would I change jobs before giving up this value?
  • If I had all the money and time I needed, would I continue to apply this value to my daily activities?

Not a bad thing to ponder over the weekend.

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