PonderThis: When Values are Out of Sync

Values that have been thoroughly tested and go beyond the meaningless pabulum displayed on most corporate lobby walls are more important than you might think.  Clarity about what the organization stands for allows all involved to know whether it is the place that they want to work, do business, sit shoulder to shoulder with others and place their trust.  And clearly articulated values let a leader increase effectiveness and sleep at night about their decisions and actions.

In almost any competency model for leadership- values are considered a critical issue.  Values are often measured by assessing integrity and courageous authenticity.  Are a leader’s values clear?  Are their actions and decisions consistent with the values they espouse?  Will they stay with their value system, even when it is tested?  All this seems pretty obvious and simple- that is until a leader’s values are out of sync with those of the organization.  Then things become a little more complicated.  Here are a few examples:

Last year, the SVP Global Sales at a client company spent over $22 million on implementing a new sales process and account strategy system. His argument to the operating committee and to the board was that this new system opened the gateway to a much more resilient and productive sales process and was needed to survive in the coming market changes. Training, CRM systems, changes in performance management and coaching for sales managers who were being asked to shift their management style were all part of the initiative.   Through mid year, the SVP was solidly behind the project.  But as markets softened and the year’s optimistic sales goals began to look more and more distant, the leader began to change his tune.  By Q4, his message was basically “Never mind.  Just go do what you have to and get the business.  We will worry about it next year.”  So- is this a case of cutting his losses with a flawed system or lack of courageous integrity when the heat is on?  Either way- it is $22 million and a lot of time, energy and focus wasted.

How about this from today’s news? A small but very vocal group of Muslims in London are on the street actively protesting and suggesting violent overthrow of the government in favor of Sharia law and a Muslim state. (See the footage here.)  Their value system is clearly out of sync with not only most of the UK, but also with the vast majority of Muslims.  So, why are they allowed to stand on the street and demonstrate?  The larger value system of the UK is that people should be allowed to speak their minds.  The larger population and the government are being tested with an extreme and vitriolic message to be sure; but their value system (so far at least) seems to be stronger than their distaste for the way it is being used as a shield.

And another from the world of mergers & acquisitions. Before the sale to Verizon, Scott Ford, CEO of Alltel defended his decision to sell the company based on his value system.  He explained often that care of another’s money (stockholders in this case) was all but a sacred trust.  His decision to sell was driven by that value and his belief that it was in the best interest of those who had put their trust in him as the steward of their investment.  But is it that simple?  Scott Ford was among the biggest shareholders.  And others who would be impacted had other values.  Some, for instance, might have been guided by a value system that put preserving jobs first.

Normally, it falls to a leader to make tough calls.  Not everyone agreed with Scott Ford.  Many in the UK believe that the police should take the radicals in hand.  and I can tell you that many of the sales execs in the first examples are completely at sea about what their boss really believes.  But those people are accountable for the decisions and will, for good or ill, be guided by their own values systems.  That alone is the argument for spending the time and energy to articulate a clear and powerful set of values, and to give them real traction in the  leadership of the organization.

Over the weekend, have a look at your organizations values and ask yourself:

  • Are these consistent with my personal values?  Can I make decisions based on my personal value systems without running afoul of those articulated for the larger organization?
  • Do these value systems have teeth?  Can we stand by them when times are tough?  Do we truly live by them today?
  • What values are alive in the organization today that are not articulated here?

Please comment on your own experience with the use and abuse of values systems?  Have you seen values statements that truly did have impact?  What works and what does not?

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