Key Point: It’s time to call out companies and organizations that do nothing to advance humankind. And as part of misguided missions, it is also time to scream “B.S” when institutions populate and propagate value statements that are more spin than truth.
“I will work for the hottest company in the world.” That was the statement uttered by a candidate I was trying to recruit in 1999. Unfortunately for him, he chose Enron over us. Before its collapse, Enron marketed electricity and natural gas, delivered energy and other physical commodities, and provided financial/risk management services to customers around the world. In fact, Enron was once ranked the sixth-largest energy company in the world. In 2000, annual revenues reached over $1 billion USD and the stock was trading at more than $90/share. On Dec. 2, 2001, Enron filed for bankruptcy protection in the biggest case of bankruptcy in the United States (up to that point). Roughly 5,600 Enron employees subsequently lost their jobs. Most of the top executives were tried for fraud after it was revealed in Nov. 2001 that Enron’s earnings had been overstated by several hundred million dollars. The jury in the Enron case found both the former CEO, and founder, guilty of conspiracy and fraud. Arthur Andersen, Enron’s accounting firm, and at that time one of the so called “Big Five”, also dissolved.
The pictures above are of a plastic cube with Enron’s values stamped on it. This swag was circulated to all Enron’s employees. I’m sure it sat prominently on the CEO Jeff Skilling’s desk prior to his jail sentence. You will note that one side of the cube promises INTEGRITY with a commitment of honesty and openness to customers. Another side espouses RESPECT, where amongst other things, it emphases that arrogance and callousness don’t belong. I won’t even bother to tell you about the other sides of the cube. If you wonder why employees become suspicious, if not cynical, when value statements are created and published, be reminded of Enron and other phony organizations that say one thing but do another. All too often, published values are well-intended wishes that bear little resemblance to what people actually experience. At their worst, they are hollow statements (or even lies), written by PR or HR departments, printed on coffee mugs, posters, annual reports and yes… cubes, that make stakeholders want to vomit!
Declaring and living by meaningful value statements in organizations is hard work, requiring considerable thought and relentless application. They can never be “one and done.” To be real and materially impactful, they have to be soaked into and transparently visible in every part of the institutional fabric. When they live they are celebrated, and when contravened there are consequences. When they really guide ALL people in an organization, they genuinely become magical and mythical. They power the institution by binding diverse thought and behavior into true ONENESS.
Personal Leadership Moves:
- If you declare value statements, compel everyone to relentlessly commit. And when values are contravened (because we are imperfect human beings, they surely will be), insist the entire organization learns from the mistake. Then, recommit to the importance of the value.
- Call B.S. if values become empty promises. Do not let them become sad and broken statements relegated to coffee cups or cubes. Remind yourself how easy and slippery the slope is to have values compromised and culture permanently damaged. In Enron’s case, the bankruptcy started the day respect and integrity went out the window, and became ones that eventually had bars in front of them.
No value prisoners in Personal Leadership,
One Millennial View: The classic talking the talk without walking the walk. I would consider myself a trusting person, and it’s frustrating to know that I have to be wary of employer’s mission statements and values. I hope the hand-shake deal isn’t dead, but in 2018, you do need an antenna up. Millennial core values and truths are still extremely significant, and if they aren’t represented at your place of work, then you might want to rethink why you’re there.
Edited and published by Garrett Rubis