By Michael Gunther
Over the past few years, it has become common for businesses to promote their core values and their ethical practices as part of their marketing strategies. They may be promoted directly to employees in mission statements, in training manuals, or in employee newsletters; they may also be promoted to clients in websites, in industry publications, or in printed marketing materials.
But when the rubber hits the road and it comes time to make business decisions and set company direction, are these values and ethics reviewed and utilized? Is staff expected to uphold these values and ethics in their code of conduct even if the leaders of the company neglect them?
Sadly, we can just turn to the news to see many examples of companies that are neglecting their own code of conduct. Most recently, Toyota has stepped away from their core values. For years they had built a culture around quality, safety, and service; yet when it came time to decide how to handle their issue of faulty gas pedals they seemingly didn’t review their own core values. They chose to be secretive, withhold information, and react slowly. Now they have damaged their reputation – perhaps irreparably.
By contrast, Johnson & Johnson has a strong set of core values that they live and operate by – that their first responsibility is to provide the highest quality products to their clients. When the Tylenol poisonings occurred back in the early 1980s, Johnson & Johnson took one look at their core values and reacted within them. With their number one concern being consumer safety, they pulled all of their products off the shelves across the world (not just in the impacted areas) at the cost of millions of dollars. Their quick response in recalling the product and their swift action in reaching out to the victims’ families were part of their core values and ethics. By doing the right thing, they saved their brand reputation and in the long run saved millions of dollars.
This question of values and ethics brings to my mind the old adage, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything”; meaning if you are willing to cheat, lie, or take advantage of people in one area, why would anyone believe that you would do any different in another? Business owners or leaders who are dishonest about defects in their product or service even when they know they exist; who expect their employees to take ownership for their actions and mistakes yet do not do the same for their own actions or mistakes; or who talk negatively about customers, employees, past employees, etc. yet expect others to treat them or their customers with respect, create a lack of confidence in their integrity and in their leadership ability.
To be a truly credible business leader, you must live by your core values or code of ethics within your business; you must walk your talk. Your employees and clients will know when you don’t. If you want your employees to operate within the values you put in place for your business, you need to lead by example and live by those values.
The Bottom Line
Walk your talk. If you operate from a set of core values and ethics and want your employees to as well, keep yourself in check to make sure you are truly living by them. Values and ethics are not optional. “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”