When Business and Personal Values Collide

When Business and Personal Values Collide

When was the last time you had your alignment checked? Not the alignment of your car—the alignment of your company’s actions with its mission and values. And what about yourself?  Do your personal values align with those of your company?

Corporate communications is at the nexus of how companies act and what customers and society expect from them. Topics like diversity and inclusion, corporate social responsibility and #MeToo are no longer “nice to address.” They have become fundamental business imperatives that sit squarely within the responsibility of today’s communications professionals.

To visualize the current state of alignment and where companies fall short, G&S conducted an online snap poll of 304 business professionals across the U.S., asking them about the alignment of their company’s mission, values and actions with their own.

The results were surprising. The poll among professionals uncovered three primary disconnects between the organization and employees, which point to disturbing perceptions of corporate hypocrisy, lack of empathy and dereliction of duty.

Disconnect #1: Not Walking the Talk

How is this for a core set of values?

  • What’s right for customers
  • People as a competitive advantage
  • Ethics
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Leadership

This admirable set of values belongs to a company that professes to put its customers first and serve as a trusted advisor. Yet Wells Fargo, the holder of these publicly stated values, has, in fact, failed on all five.

Wells Fargo is now grappling with countless lawsuits and settlements that are shredding its reputation. In the past 18 months alone, the company has faced allegations of:

  • Creating millions of fake and unauthorized bank and credit card accounts in customers’ names to meet unrealistic internal sales targets;
  • Unauthorized mortgage modifications;
  • Overcharging for auto insurance;
  • Overcharging small businesses;
  • Wrongly fining mortgage clients;
  • Selling dangerous investments;
  • Failing to comply with Dodd-Frank;
  • Illegally repossessing service members’ cars;
  • Egregious and discriminatory lending to minorities; and
  • Clawing back of $75 million in executive compensation.

While Wells Fargo presents an extreme case, it illustrates that the failure to align business practice with corporate mission and values risks the reputation and the value of the brand. And while most companies aren’t batting 0 for 5 on living their values, a majority of respondents said that their own company’s actions did not live up to the stated mission and values.

Sixty percent of respondents strongly agreed that their company’s mission and values are clear to employees. But only 45 percent of respondents strongly agreed that their company’s actions are aligned with their mission and values.

If actions speak louder than words, then this gap is clamoring for attention.

Disconnect #2: The Ivory Tower

It is hard to beat Wells Fargo’s poor performance on the mission, values and action front, but United Airlines seems to be trying to take the lead. United does not publicly state a mission on its website, but it does profess a shared purpose of “Connecting People. Uniting the World.” The company’s associated values include: We fly right; We fly friendly; We fly together; and We fly above and beyond.

Dealing with the traveling public is no easy feat, especially when someone always seems to have a smartphone at the ready to catch employees at their worst. For United, however, a positive customer experience is the very cornerstone of the business model.

United has rebounded from bankruptcy to profitability and currently pays record profit sharing. Yet, it wrangles with unions over double-digit raises and faces severe backlash for dragging customers off overbooked flights, sending pets to the wrong airports, and worse. Much of the problem lies in a rigid system that encourages managers to follow rules and policies rather than empowering them to use common sense to resolve distinct and disparate situations.

And how is management responding? By mandating that 30,000 customer-facing employees undergo compassion training. They also rolled out, then pulled back, a shortsighted initiative to change the quarterly employee incentive for meeting operational goals to a lottery system awarding $100,000 in cash and a new Mercedes-Benz car to “winning employees” who had a perfect attendance record for the quarter. United management has proven remarkably tone-deaf in its approach to aligning  action with values.

While United, too, is an extreme example, the disconnect between the C-suite and middle management on mission, values and action is not as uncommon as one might think. G&S found that roughly 80 percent of C-suite executives strongly agreed that their company’s mission and values were clear to employees and aligned with their own personal values. Among middle managers, however, only 57 percent strongly agreed that their company’s mission and vision were clear to all employees, and a mere 48 percent felt that they aligned with their own personal values.

Interestingly, while C-suite executives believe they effectively communicate the company mission and values to their employees, most respondents across lower levels of management see more opportunity to align action with the stated mission and values. Executives across various industries seem to be struggling to activate the stated corporate values within their organizations.

Disconnect #3: Lack of Personal Ownership

Those of us at companies other than Wells Fargo or United Airlines may think that we are doing pretty well by comparison. But as these examples and G&S snap poll findings show, when a disconnect exists between the stated mission and values, it amplifies the negatives and damages reputations.

As communications professionals, we cannot allow ourselves to sit idly by when we observe these gaps in our own companies. We must run regular diagnostics of our corporate mission, values and actions to identify synergies, disconnects and problem areas. We must take the initiative to offer concrete ideas to senior leadership on how to address these gaps while clearly articulating the risk associated with doing nothing. In a similar way, we all have a responsibility to ourselves to consider our own personal mission and values. What do we aspire to be, both professionally and personally? What do we stand for?  How do our own values align with those of our company? Do we even have our own self-identified values, or have we simply accepted our company’s values as our own?

These are deep and necessary questions that require self-reflection. And few people take the time to do it. According to the G&S snap poll, only 43 percent of respondents reported taking the time to discern their own personal mission and values.

But without first establishing perspective and choosing a path, change remains a distant hope. Take the time to do your own alignment check – for yourself and for your company – to see how the values stack up against the actions. In the end, each of us must clarify our own mission and values and either choose to drive positive change within our current organization or seek new opportunities to do so elsewhere.

Which will you do?

Steve Halsey is Managing Director, Business Consulting, G&S Business Communications. Global businesses and brands seeking a competitive edge rely on Steve to find the best paths forward. In his role, Steve helps launch new products; build, protect and manage reputations; explore new concepts and models; and map out winning strategies that allow clients to increase their market share. He challenges conventional wisdom for B2B and B2C companies, providing clients with increased brand value, awareness with target audiences and loyalty. Steve also oversees the agency’s digital and social media initiatives as well as research, insights and analytics teams, and he established G&S’ proprietary I Power™ strategy and messaging service. He is a member of the International Association of Business Communicators and Public Relations Society of America. An avid rugby player, Steve moves with agility to execute projects with powerful models that elevate brands.

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