A View from Blue Grotto

Monday, November 20, 2006

More than a mission statement

“The biggest defense against pilferage is a strong culture.” Orin Smith former CFO of Starbucks.

I was moved to write again this week about corporate culture upon hearing the news that former Enron Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling, who was convicted of fraud and conspiracy in the biggest corporate scandal in U.S. history, is to begin his sentence at the low-security federal prison in Waseca, Minnesota. And, partner in crime, David Delainey, may also be sent to the Waseca prison.

When the collapsing Enron inundated cocktail hour conversation back in 2001, people would ask incredulously, “How could the top people not have known?” When folks inside the company, some long-time employees, asked the same question, with the same sense of incredulity, investigators appropriately became suspicious.

A company’s culture is organic. And it’s viral. It spreads quickly. It is defined by leadership and emulated by direct reports. In the 9/29/03 issue of Harvard Business School Working Knowledge Newsletter http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/3689.html, Michael Sisk asks: how does a commitment to "do the right thing" as it's applied to customers, employees, and other stakeholders affect an organization's daily decision making?

In this brief article, Sisk gives examples of the challenges every company - big or small, corporate or independent consultant - tackles regularly - maintaining your values under constant economic pressures. Executives he quotes credit communication as an important piece of the shared values puzzle. Continually articulating a company’s values and vision is a constant reminder to employees of all levels.

I would also argue that finding ways to illustrate your organization’s values – not just stating them, posting them up in the lunchroom, but rather finding ways to incorporate them into key messages…in newsletters, weekly reports, messages from leadership…gives employees concrete benchmarks and a richer understanding of what you mean when you say: “UPS believes that corporate commitment to core values and ethical decision-making are the foundation upon which all aspects of the company must be built – the foundation which ensures the company’s long term viability. This commitment creates a climate for success in which our customers, employees, shareowners and communities can trust in UPS’s legacy of leading with integrity.” {Summary of UPS mission statement, yes, summary}. It sounds nice. And very official. But what does it mean? To the customer shipping millions of dollars of merchandise every year, to the shareowner, and most importantly to the person in the brown truck carrying your most prized possession to, hopefully, your door?

Email me with examples of how your organization stretches beyond the mission statement. I am eager to hear of examples of living your values.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.