THE IMPORTANCE OF STANDING BY YOUR COMPANY VALUES
It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” - Roy Disney
We’ve all read articles about the importance of having company values and being a values-driven company. Best-selling management consultants like Jim Collins and Tom Peters frequently emphasise the importance of company values and highlight businesses that leverage their core values to outperform the market.
Despite the credibility of authors like Collins and Peters, it’s still all too easy to be sceptical about the importance of company values. We all know businesses where their stated values are little more than meaningless platitudes with leaders paying lip service to core values that do not inspire, engage, or motivate.
I believe this helps to explain why so many CEOs have been struggling to work out how to respond to last week’s Executive Order on immigration. The so called ‘Muslim Ban.’
It’s reported that over the weekend, calls flew back and forth between US top CEOs as they asked one another: “What are you going to say about Trump’s Executive Order?” The New Times reported that one CEO asked how he could condemn the order without “stoking the bear.” In my view the answer to that question is simple. You can’t.
Some CEOs, like Tesla’s Elon Musk, have secured a place on councils and advisory boards. They’re worried that if they speak out against the order, they will lose a place at the table and the opportunity to influence the President’s thinking. Especially as they are hopeful for tax cuts, deregulation and investment in infrastructure. Although reportedly upset by the order, Musk initially offered a tepid response on Twitter: “The blanket entry ban on citizens from certain primarily Muslim countries is not the best way to address the country’s challenges.” He quickly found himself on the end of strong criticism from his fans who clearly expected him to deliver a more robust response. One Twitter user wrote “Expected a much more forceful condemnation from someone like Musk.”
Another CEO explained that, on the one hand he could issue a clear statement of opposition to the ban, which would bring about both cheers and boos from his different constituents. But this would mean losing any influence he had with the President, and the opportunity to guide him in more sensible policy making. Or he could offer a ‘Milquetoast* reply’ that appeased his employees but did not upset the President.
This raises the question of whether anybody, beyond Trump’s immediate inner circle, actually has any influence on his decision making. Because if, like me, your assessment is that only the inner circle has any kind of influence over the President, then frankly you’re wasting your time trying to get your voice heard. Your time and energies would be better spent on building your brand and scenario planning.
Which leads me to my central question...
What are your company values?
If your company values include respecting and celebrating inclusion, diversity, fairness and equal opportunity for all, do you stay silent when your employees are affected by a government policy? Or do you speak up? Clearly it’s hard to argue that you’re acting in accordance with your company values if you remain silent.
Starbucks, Google and Lyft quickly came out with robustly worded statements, condemning the order, whilst backing their words up with money and resources.
In an open letter to its staff, Chief Executive Howard Schultz wrote to employees with "deep concern, a heavy heart and a resolute promise" - adding he wanted them to know that the firm would "neither stand by, nor stand silent, as the uncertainty around the new administration's actions grows with each passing day".
In his letter, Schultz announced the company’s plan to hire 10,000 refugees worldwide starting in the U.S., “where stores will focus on hiring those who served as interpreters and support personnel for U.S. troops overseas.” The recruitment pledge was "a concerted effort to welcome and seek opportunities for those fleeing war, violence, persecution and discrimination", he said.
This announcement immediately prompted a swift social media boycott by supporters of President Donald Trump. The hashtag, #BoycottStarbucks, quickly went viral and trended across multiple social media platforms. This was swiftly countered by fans of the company, tweeting using the hashtag “#SupportStarbucks.”
Starbucks issued a statement in response to the social media calls for a boycott:
“Our company’s mission is to inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time in neighborhoods all over the world. We make decisions based on our mission, values and heritage and we recognize that sometimes there are some who may disagree with us. We respect the diverse points of views held by our partners and customers and will continue to listen.”
This statement is in complete alignment with its Diversity Policy which says:
“We're committed to upholding a culture where diversity is valued and respected. So it's only natural that as a guiding principle, diversity is integral to everything we do.
At Starbucks we define Diversity in the form of an equation.
Diversity = Inclusion + Equity + Accessibility
Inclusion: human connection & engagement
Equity: fairness & justice
Accessibility: ease of use & barrier free”
My expectation is that whilst Starbucks shares might have taken a short term hit, customers will reward the brand with their loyalty. This is because the strongest, most successful brands deploy the ‘Marmite effect.’ Marmite is a British savoury spread which you either love – or you hate.
News of the Executive Order came at a delicate time for Google. The company, as part of its own strategic planning, is determining its broader policy approach to Trump on a range of issues, including net neutrality, taxes and competition law.
This didn’t stop Google being highly vocal in the fight against the ban, first recalling all staff members travelling abroad back to the US, then donating $4 million to refugee causes, with funds going to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the International Rescue Committee and the UNHCR.
Over the weekend Sergy Brin joined a protest at San Francisco International Airport where he told the crowd that he came to the US as a refugee after his family left Russia in the 1970s to avoid persecution of Jewish people.
"I came here to the US at age six with my family from the Soviet Union, which at the time was the greatest enemy the US had. It was a dire period of the Cold War. Some of you probably remember it - there was the threat of nuclear annihilation. And even then the US had the courage to take me and my family in as refugees."
Google even got political with its 'doodle' - choosing to pay tribute to Fred Korematsu, a famed Japanese-American who defied government orders to enter an internment camp during World War II. Korematsu was among the thousands who were to be rounded up under Franklin Roosevelt's executive order 9066 in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbour. Describing the ‘doddle,’ Google explained:
“Fred Korematsu can be remembered fighting for civil rights and against prejudice throughout his life, famously saying:
If you have the feeling that something is wrong, don't be afraid to speak up."
While thousands of Google employees staged a protest at the company's offices, walking away from their desks alongside both co-founder, Sergey Brin, and Chief Executive, Sundar Pichai. Pichai told the assembled employees on Monday that the issue is "at the core of the founding of this company." Googlers took to social media, using the hashtag #Google Unite.
That Google has succeeded in creating such powerful company values where both employees and the company’s leaders unite to protest, is nothing short of amazing. It’s smart business and the sign of a remarkable and highly profitable organisation.
That’s because companies that effectively identify and promote their values have lower employee turnover, higher customer retention and greater profitability than those that don’t. Promoting diversity and inclusion is central to Google’s stated values.
Your employees have the potential to be your biggest advocates, positively reflecting your business in the myriad of ways they communicate every day. Your team is the un-tapped engine that can catapult your company upward. And your company values are the keystone that will give them their purpose.
In Part 2 of this series, I’m going to look at how you go about establishing your company values.
Join the Conversation
Questions: Are you clear on your company values? What's your response to Trump's Executive Order? I love to read your feedback, so please share in the comments box below.
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I’m Denyse Whillier, a London based business coach and consultant. I guide entrepreneurs from across the globe to achieve profitable, scaleable growth and create businesses that are Built To Succeed™. Built To Succeed™ is my proven success system, developed during my 8 years in the trenches as a CEO, 25 years’ experience at senior leadership and managerial level and training at Cranfield School of Management, the UK's leading business school. It's this background that sets me apart and helps my clients to get BIG results.
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* Named after the 1920’s comic strip character, Caspar Milquetoast, meaning: a very timid, unassertive, spineless person, especially one who is easily dominated or intimidated.