Guest post from Bethany Andell:
Recently a CEO friend of mine said that the three key ingredients to building a great culture are:
1) belief in the mission,
2) clarity of the vision and
3) having fun while living the values.
There is a growing movement in the business world that proves all of these points to be true. I have seen in my own business, and also in my clients’, that clarity of vision and passion for purpose are instrumental in long term success. However, having a clear purpose and vision alone are often not enough – his third ingredient, “living the values,” is critical in a company’s ability to bring its purpose to life. Even further, the key to that statement is the word “living.”
To walk the talk as a leader should be an easy concept – just do what you say. Instead, what is probably more accurate is the phrase “easier said than done.” When companies list their values on a poster in the breakroom or on their website or even state them in a town hall they somehow expect everyone to adopt and abide by those values. But then you turn around and the same leadership team that posted the values is behaving in a completely contradictory manner – and you wonder why we don’t trust leadership.
Disturbingly, the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed 63 percent of its survey respondents said CEOs are somewhat or not at all credible. Well… how many of you have heard a CEO say that his people are the company’s most important asset, but all decisions seem to benefit the investor over the employee? How many times have you heard that a company’s value is safety or quality, but an employee gets in trouble for calling out an issue? How many of you have heard a leadership team say they are accessible, but there’s a security code required to enter the executive suite?
In general, I would argue that most business leaders are good people with good intentions that unfortunately make some bad moves. It is hard to always walk the talk and it is hard to be called to the mat when you don’t. It is hard to always be looked to and looked at. I am a leader of a company and I admit from my own experience that it is hard and that I have failed at times. But hard is not and never will be an excuse – our ability to live out our purpose and values every day is what we, in a position of leadership, are looked to for. If you are a leader you are the example setter; you are the role model; you are the chief influencer. It is an absolute requirement to be the steward of your organization’s purpose and live out the values you claim.
I take heed of the Conscious Capitalism Conscious Leadership tenet: “Conscious Leaders focus on ‘we,’ rather than ‘me.’ They inspire, foster transformation and bring out the best in those around them.” There really is no better way to inspire your team than to be an example of your company values. It is in the actions of a leader that we see his true purpose and passion come to life.
Whole Foods states their purpose “is to nourish people and the planet.” In late 2014 co-founder and CEO John Mackey, notably the man most associated with organic foods, created the Responsibly Grown rating system so that his customers would have greater transparency about their food. But he also wanted to expose factors in production that were not being addressed in the standard organic certification. From soil health to farmworker welfare, the system takes into account issues that need to be addressed by growers. Through this program they buy first from producers that address these issues. It was not an easy decision and Mackey received push back from farmers. But he stood by the decision and found a way to nourish people and planet, aligning his actions with the company purpose.
But what of leaders who have failed their organizations? Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, stated in 1977, “What we’re trying to do is remove the barrier of having to learn to use a computer.” His mission to remove a barrier between people and technology proved successful, but his actions as a leader created a barrier between himself and his people.
After he was ousted as CEO he claimed that it took being a failure as a leader to open his eyes to what was needed at his company. In a presentation in 1997, after he came back to Apple as CEO, he stated, “Even a great brand needs investment in caring if it’s going to retain its relevance and vitality. And the Apple brand has clearly suffered from neglect in this area in the last few years. And we need to bring it back.”
At the time Jobs realized he needed to get back to his company’s core value, that people with passion can change the world for the better. He had become so focused on producing things that he forgot the heart of what mattered, and that was people.
When you lead by example you create a vision of what is possible for others. If you do it consistently you create a culture where anything is possible. But if your actions aren’t congruent with your values you risk the integrity and credibility of your whole organization. In all things tie back to your core values. No matter what you are doing in any given moment there is always an opportunity to tie it back to your values, and by doing so you will find that walking your talk is not as hard as it sounds.
As President of Savage Brands, Bethany Andell is on a mission to revolutionize corporate America by unleashing the inherent good in all companies. In her book, Get Your Head Out of Your Bottom Line: And Build Your Brand on Purpose, Andell, along with co-author Jackie Dryden, Chief Purpose Architect at Savage Brands, help executives at business-to-business companies shift their focus from solely improving the bottom line to instead prioritize the company’s long-term health, culture and non-monetary impact on the world. Bethany is also the host of The BusinessMaker’s radio program, “Brandonomics”. The show features CEOs and business owners sharing direct insights on their purpose-driven organizations and strategies.