How many organizations have you seen in the headlines recently tied to stories of cultural failure, leadership blindness, unethical behavior, terrible decision-making? Within even in a few seconds, you’re likely to think of between five and 10 examples.
Let’s take VW, WellsFargo, Uber, Exxon, Fox News, United Airlines, The Weinstein Company, Walmart, HSBC, Lehman Brothers, Barclays Bank, Adidas, Samsung, and, in the past few weeks and days here in the U.K., Carillion, Toys”R”Us and Maplin. The world is seemingly now littered with companies that have experienced ethical failures. There is a whole host of reasons for these dreadful situations, but these are salutary examples worth remembering as we consider whether there is any value to organization values, and the impact of these failures on industries, communities, customers, suppliers, employees—and more.
The majority of those companies, with one exception as far as I could tell, do or did have codes of conduct, ethics policies and company values that are and were woven through a myriad of communications. Values in particular are often proudly proclaimed by organizations as if somehow they add credibility to their activities. The fact is, though, and as the companies we have in our minds will attest, they don’t make you immune to ethical and corporate failures and are useless as a get-out-of-jail-free card. In fact, quite the opposite. Today, stated values are heavily scrutinized and tested by people as they make supplier and employer choices, develop business partnerships, engage as employees, and so on. Flowery and fluffy intentions (the touch-feely stuff) are simply not acceptable any more. If you say it, then you will be challenged to do it.