We are in an era where workers are looking for reasons to why a business exists beyond making money. A time when it’s commonplace to discuss the greater purpose of a business and the values that are important to both the leaders and employees of a company. The values of a company are the personality of the place. The behaviors that the founder(s) and leaders want from all employees in their absence. These behaviors act as an ongoing compass that provides employees direction when they are on their own or faced with an opportunity or crisis in the business. When the business purpose is not clear, it is almost assumed that the purpose is to make money. But today there are so many other reasons for the business to exist; to do good for social causes, to be active in the community and to exist for greater good!
So, in the modern business world we celebrate values. Google is famous for the value or corporate motto “Don’t be evil”, which really encourages all employees to think morally about the impact of their decisions on the people who use their service. And as the legends suggest, software engineers often pound the table when a suggested change will do evil.
Despite businesses as large as Google or Zappos having values and a greater purpose than just making money, I am asked frequently about the implications of having corporate values. What happens when the company values are misinterpreted by employees, or even customers for their personal gain? “Don’t be evil” is regularly misquoted as “Don’t do evil.” Big deal? Not so sure.
One of our values that is often misquoted at Outside-In® Companies is being Front Door. Picture a house with three doors; a front door, side door and back door. Now imagine how communication flows in any good size group. Inevitably issues and opportunities arise. Conversations need to happen. Not everyone likes, knows how or knows when they need to have the hard conversations that represent being Front Door. So being direct is front door, being indirect is side door, and water cooler chatter or gossip is back door.
Now imagine that an employee misinterprets the Front Door value as their right to say anything they want directly, regardless of tone or its impact. For instance, screaming expletives and justifying the behavior by saying, “I am just being Front Door” is an abuse of the value’s intent. And undermines the goal, which is to get in front of small problems before they fester into larger ones. Front Door is not a right to be mean or to lack other professional attributes when you go about your business. When this happens, it can mean one of two things. The employee has a misunderstanding of the meaning of the value OR that employee is misusing the value with intent of personal gain, and therefore is not a culture fit.
To elevate this another level, what happens when a leader appears to behave in a way that defies the values? When leaders run a company in defiance of its values, only bad things happen and a decline is inevitable. For example, when a leader continues to promote an employee that habitually defies the company values, a ripple effect of decline is inevitable. The key word for leaders to note is “appears.” A leader may be acting within the definition of the value(s)’s intent, but the appearance of defiance can have a ripple effect as well. In this case, the onus is on the employee to be Front Door with the leader to say “you are not living X value.” This gives the leader a chance to explain the missing perspective and prevent a decline. Having company values feels good, but living values and holding teammates accountable is the mark of a true values-based organization.
I am collecting stories where values have gone bad or have been misinterpreted or misquoted for the purpose of personal gain. Please send them to me at Icanhelpyou (at) thecbigroup (dot) com or share them in a comment below.