In the past, values have rarely appeared in corporate strategic plans but they have often been used as strategies for molding employee culture and gaining market success. They are often fabrications.
“Our people are our most important assets,” for example. Then why, I have to ask, are your people still on the liability side of the balance sheet?
During the last few decades corporate values have become major issues. The blatant disregard of law, morality, social and economic impact, and the harm being done to the environment have dominated the headlines.
Following the Enron debacle and the 2007 stock market crash, there has been a steady stream of headlines such as “Tyson Foods Executives Indicted” for smuggling illegal aliens, aiding them in obtaining false documents and bribing INS undercover agents. And the impact of unrestrained capitalism on our very democracy.
Faith in business is on the decline. The value of values is on the rise.
A most recent example is Brendan Bush who used to buy just about everything from Bonobos including his swim trunks and the suit he wore to his wedding. But over a year ago he stopped. The clothing company announced it had been acquired by Walmart for $310 million. Bush hasn’t spent a cent at Bonobos since.
“I don’t begrudge a company for selling itself, but there’s something particularly egregious about the Walmart deal,” he said. “I don’t like the way they treat their employees or how they’ve put smaller retailers out of business. It’s not a company I want to support.”
Our Values Are In Our DNA
Now here we are in NotMyEconomics making plans to restart our careers as socially responsible, self-managed indie capitalists and we expect our personal values will lead the way. That’s our DNA. We will be value-driven because it is our values that have led us to go into business for ourselves.
Not so with most corporations. You can easily imagine half a dozen suits gathered around a conference table when you read some of the corporate value statements.
Take Starbucks for Example
“With our partners, our coffee and our customers at our core, we live these values:
- Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.
- Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.
- Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.
- Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.
- We are performance driven, through the lens of humanity.
Those are fine intentions but they are just promises dreamed up by a committee and meant to be lived up to . . . or else.
I’ve highlighted the words “Creating a culture” because those very words are an admission that these values are not in the DNA and, therefore, must be created through “organizational alignment.”
In other words, these values have been adopted, understood and respected by the organization. But now they have to be adopted by the people in the organization. Through enforcement. And they are not fundamental. Therefore, they are changeable.
An enterprise can’t really create or even impose a culture. The Starbucks values are on shaky ground.
Patagonia’s Reason for Being
Let’s compare Starbucks to Patagonia.
Patagonia grew out of a small company that made tools for climbers. “Alpinism” remains at the heart of a worldwide business that still makes clothes for climbing. But also for skiing, snowboarding, surfing, fly fishing, paddling and trail running.
These are all “silent sports” requiring no internal combustion engines or crowds trampling through the woods. This is the DNA of the company.
The Patagonia values statement reads:
“Our values reflect those of a business started by a band of climbers and surfers, and the minimalist style they promoted. The approach we take towards product design demonstrates a bias for simplicity and utility.
“For us at Patagonia, a love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them, and to help reverse the steep decline in the overall environmental health of our planet. We donate our time, services and at least one percent of our sales to hundreds of grassroots environmental groups all over the world who work to help reverse the tide.
“We know that our business activity – from lighting our stores to dyeing shirts – creates pollution as a by-product. So we work steadily to reduce those harms. We use recycled polyester in many of our clothes and only organic, rather than pesticide-intensive, cotton.
“Staying true to our core values during thirty-plus years in business has helped us create a company we’re proud to run and work for. And our focus on making the best products possible has brought us success in the marketplace.”
Our Reason for Being
You see, true values come from who we really are, not what we are required to be.
We are all here at NotMyEconomics for the same reason. We want to change the way capitalism and economics works for us and for others. When we become indie capitalists, companies of one, or even COWORK Entrepreneurs, we will not need anyone to impose on us someone else’s values. We will bring them to the workplace and we will be perfectly aligned. More importantly we will be genuine and that will play well in the marketplace. Not as a ploy, but as a fact.
At the very top of the COWORK Entrepreneurs Strat Plan I list my personal values.
- I believe in people.
- There is enough wealth to go around, but it doesn’t.
- If given the opportunity, I believe every person of able body and mind can create even greater wealth for themselves, the enterprise and the common good.
- I believe doing good is good for business.
- I believe the lack of economic opportunity is the root cause of all forms of social, political, economic and environmental turmoil.
- The historic divide between business and labor has inhibited innovation, productivity and growth.
- Together we need to change the way capitalism and economics works through disruptive innovation.
I’m betting my values are among your values too. If so, we are destined for great things.
At the conclusion of a six year research project at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras published the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.
In it they compared each of 18 truly exceptional and long-lasting companies with one of their top competitors. During the course of the study they asked:
“What makes the truly exceptional companies different from the comparison companies and what were the common practices these enduringly great companies followed throughout their histories?”
The following statements summarize the findings:
- “In nearly all cases (of visionary companies) we found evidence of a core ideology that existed not merely as words but as a shaping force.”
- Although profit is consistently a value in all visionary companies, profit maximization does not rule. They pursue their ideological aims profitably.
- “In a visionary company, the core values need no rational or external justification. Nor do they sway with the trends and fads of the day. Nor even do they shift in response to changing market conditions.
The study showed that values are logically the cause of success and that the type and strengths of relationships are the direct effects wherever genuine relationships occur.
That could be no clearer than in our socially responsible, self-managed, profit-sharing system, the purpose of NME and the disruptively innovative organizational model we are all adopting for our own enterprises, whether as solopreneurs, companies of one or COWORK Entrepreneurs.
An agile business should always be ready to change. But never change your values.
Dig deep in your soul for your true values as well as those who will work with you before you commit those values to your personal strategic plan. They will serve you and your customers well.
Please move on to the next essay
Personal Mission/Your Elevator Speech