Values: Look At What Your Actions Tell People

The Wall Street Journal published a recent op-ed from Lou Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM, offering a profound look at corporate culture and inviting business leaders to make sure that corporate values aren’t just meaningless words.

His opinion piece was titled: “The Culture Ate Our Corporate Reputation: CEOs must do more than establish values. Look at what your actions tell people.” Gerstner’s WSJ commentary came on the heels of a recent retail-banking debacle with the CEO making headlines and testifying before Congress for a series of bad acts. And while Gerstner says most organizations can point to well-defined values on their websites or annual reports that all employees are expected to follow, it’s the actions of the company that really define the importance of those value statements.

I could not agree more. In fact, that’s the very reason I wrote my book Values, Inc. Because while approximately 95% of companies spend time, energy, and money defining company values only to hang them on the wall and walk away, the other 5% define their values and actually put them into action. While they all had good intentions in the beginning, it is the follow through with those values that creates an important divide.

It’s what I call living your values that makes the critical difference in shaping companies, supporting and feeding their cultures and impacting the bottom line for the better of everyone who is involved. Without that action, values are just words that risk getting lost in the day-to-day of doing business.

Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game; it is the game.

This isn’t the first time Gerstner has made such a powerful argument. As the chairman and CEO of IBM from 1993-2002, he led an enormous organization from the brink of bankruptcy to the forefront of business once again. And in his book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?, he said culture was everything that led to such an amazing turnaround:

“Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like. I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game; it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.”

The Live R.I.C.H. culture and the Code of Values at Dwyer Group are great examples for an organization that continues to grow in the right way. Regularly reading the values at company meetings, reciting them by heart with heart, honoring associates who exemplify the values in action and more — it is that constant communication and reinforcement that addresses Gerstner’s plea: “Look at what your actions tell people.”

My hope is that more organizations will revisit their company values and see them beyond the written statements or the framed motivational art. Put your values into action. Live your values. And the culture that this will inspire will be incredible.