One of the toughest
jobs a leader has to perform is to act as guardian of
an organisation's values.
values are the things that are really important to it.
In the early days
of an enterprise, the values are sometimes the only
thing that keeps the business going. When other factors
make the chances of survival doubtful, such as funds,
markets, and technology, it is the set of beliefs held
by the original founders which pull the business through.
The beliefs of the organization are almost always the
beliefs of the original leaders.
are intangible. Think of Unilever's belief in co-operation,
or Mars's belief in efficiency, or IBM's belief in innovation,
or Hewlett-Packard's belief in "plain hard work",
or Levi-Strauss's belief in empathy with its customers.
It is the high value placed on these beliefs that ensure
these organizations survive in the first place and continue
As the years go
by, and the organization changes its technology, its
products and its leaders, there is a danger that it may
abandon its original set of beliefs or relegate them in
importance or forget them. To do so is to risk corporate
suicide. If original values have to change - often a difficult
step - then new values must replace them and be as meaningful,
relevant and important as the original ones.
of the organisation's values, leaders have to know
the values, live the values, and preserve the values.
John Maxwell tells the story of how John Wooden, head
basketball coach at the University of California, put
values before expediency. Wooden had spotted an outstanding
young basketball player whose skills would be an asset
to his line-up. Everyone urged him to sign the youth.
But Wooden was unsure. Something in the young man's demeanour
bothered him. So he arranged a home visit, with the contract
all prepared in his inside pocket. When he took tea with
the family, he couldn't help noticing a disrespectfulness
in the youth's attitude towards his mother. One of the
key values in Wooden's team was respect. And it was a
value he intended to maintain. As a result, the contract
stayed in his pocket.
Values are not
just important for the organization. They are the
touchstone that determines whether people succeed in the
organization. When the chips are down, it's not what you
do that counts, but whether you stay true to the values.
As Christel Brown says, "People do things because
of their values. People rob banks because their values
include greed, more money and maybe recognition. People
die on the battlefield because their values include love
of their country and patriotism." Values are the
ultimate people motivators. In organizations where values
matter, people may be dismissed for violating the rules;
they should always be dismissed for violating the values.
John Maxwell says
that values are at the heart of everything an organization
does, hence the use of the phrase "core values".
"Values are like glue. They hold an organization
together. Values are like a ruler. They set the standard
for a team's performance. Values are like a compass. They
give direction and guidance. Values are like a magnet.
They attract like-minded people. Values provide identity.
They define and identify the team."
One last example.
Few people today have heard of Phil Knight, Bill Bowerman
and Steve Prefontaine. But these three were the driving
force and inspiration that created Nike, the footwear
and clothing colossus. And what drove them? A passionate
belief that things could be done. The stories of Bowerman's
endless experiments with the family waffle iron into which
he poured rubber to create the best running shoe sole
are legendary. So are Prefontaine's battles to make running
a professional sport. Today, Nike actually employs executives
as "corporate storytellers" to remind their
staff of the values of the original founders and that
their business is about getting things done.
In business, as
in life, beliefs can move mountains. Without belief,
without a positive set of beliefs, and without action
to act on these beliefs, we achieve nothing. Our beliefs
and values drive us and our businesses. As Alvin Toffler
says, "Every business has a belief system and
it is at least as important as its accounting system or
its authority system."