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Valuable Advice

Quick, what are your company’s values? Don’t bother reaching for the corporate handbook – suffice to say most of us realize our companies have them, we’re just not sure what they are. They come to us in a boring little book full of legal jargon… a book most of us promptly abandon to the back of our filing cabinet. Who writes them? “They” do.

Quick, what are your company’s values? Don’t bother reaching for the corporate handbook – suffice to say most of us realize our companies have them, we’re just not sure what they are. They come to us in a boring little book full of legal jargon… a book most of us promptly abandon to the back of our filing cabinet. Who writes them? “They” do.

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But what if you had a hand in writing your company’s values? Suddenly the dusty jargon becomes something much more – an extension of your personal beliefs and goals. It’s enough to make the difference between a “job” and a “career.”

Michael Wright is the COO of microelectronics company Entegris and author of a new book on global business called The New Business Normal. He believes relevant values are just one of the things missing from today’s corporations. Enron, WorldCom, HealthSouth – they all had dusty little books full of values. To what end? Turns out many of the execs who handed them down were the very same execs who betrayed them. I spoke with Wright today about his new book, and how he transformed his company’s values from tokenisms to tenets:

You will never get a culture change with lip service. We sent people out to every level of our company – to 80% of our employees – and we held mini focus groups. Maybe 15-30 people in each, for 2-4 hours. We asked them things like ‘What does integrity mean to you?’ and ‘How does one exhibit it?’

[Asking employees] had a very positive effect on the atmosphere of the company. When employees take part in forming their company’s values, they’re more likely to buy in. They’re willing to discuss things. For example, when a battle at work turns personal, we know we’ve violated one of our values: respectful relationships. After all, we formed them. As a result, we’re willing to call each other on things we might not have before.

Makes you wonder. If Enron’s employees had written the company’s values themselves, would anything be different? It would’ve been a step in the right direction, says Wright.

Performance is a residual of behaviors. If you flip that you get an Enron, where behaviors were a residual of performance. If the only thing you hold out as important is performance, you’ll get it. But you’ll get it with behaviors you didn’t plan.

With millions on the table, would Lay or Scrushy have paid any attention to this advice? Would you?

Better to have your values straightened out before you have to make the choice.