Values in Action
Trust, accountability, integrity … As we've seen in the preceding chapters, these are heady topics. So many companies claim these as core values, but that's the easy part. The hard part comes in actually trying to express these values in action, in pulling them down from the ether and giving them life at eye level. Agilent was successful in doing this; as Fortune pointed out, the company earned its employees' trust when times were good, so it had a "head start" in maintaining that trust when its fortunes turned.
Among the thousands upon thousands of American companies, Enron and the like are outliers. The vast majority of companies are led and staffed by honorable people who want to do well financially, but do so ethically. They want their work to mean something. They want to create something they can be proud of. In short, they want to build Accountable Organizations of their own. And to build anything, one needs tools.
BUILDING THE ACCOUNTABLE ORGANIZATION
Daniel Roth, "How to Cut Pay, Lay Off 8,000 People, and Still Have Workers Who Love You," Fortune 145, 3 (February 4, 2002): 63.
Chapter Four: Purpose—Clarifying What You Stand For
In the movie Jerry Maguire, successful sports agent Jerry Maguire seems to have it all: money, a nice house and car, a beautiful fiancée. But he's conflicted. He senses that the business of sports representation is going in the wrong direction—that he is going in the wrong direction. One night while at a conference in Miami, Jerry sits down at his laptop and starts writing. And writing. In a burst of inspiration, he outlines what the business should be about: fewer clients, not more. Less quantity, more quality. A focus on people, not money.
At first, Jerry's sure he'll just delete his manifesto and go back to bed. Instead, he ends up going to a twenty-four-hour copy center and distributing his masterpiece to everyone at the conference before daybreak. Needless to say, given the cynicism of his business, Jerry's mission statement isn't welcomed, and he promptly loses his job. He struggles to make a new start with the one employee and the one client who believe in him. And in the end, he finds much more meaningful—and promising—success than he ever had before.
Of course, Jerry Maguire is a Hollywood fable: the happy ending is written into the script long before the opening credits roll. Real life doesn't come with such guarantees. But part of the reason audiences connect with the movie is our desire for clarity. We identify with Jerry's middle-of-the-night epiphany—and admire his recklessness in actually letting that epiphany see the light of day.
Most of us have an understanding of our fundamental beliefs of right and wrong. But far fewer of us have taken the time to clearly define the principles by which we will live and the goals we want to achieve. It's more than just a worthwhile exercise; it's necessary for making sure that our lives are governed by what we believe in, not just by what's expedient. The same is true for companies. If expediency is allowed to rule, an organization doesn't control its course. Instead, decisions are made in the service of short-term considerations rather than long-term success.