It’s not what you say, but what you do.
A leader’s values and ethics are worthless if they are no more than words that are spouted to employees and stakeholders. A leader's true values are in the
actions behind those words.
In the early 2000s a problem was recognized when Ford Explorers were flipping over at high speeds. It was determined that layers of the Bridgestone/Firestone tires were peeling off, causing instability and rollovers of the vehicles. The result was 174 deaths and more than 700 injuries.
The Ford corporate statement of policy regarding health and environment states, “It is Ford’s policy that its operations, products and services accomplish their functions in a manner that provides responsibly for the protection of health and environment.”
While Bridgestone states as their mission, “Serving society with superior quality” and in their value statement says, “We are fair, open and honest and communicate freely.”
The two companies, instead of immediately acting to solve the problem, started pointing fingers at one another. Both blaming each other, thereby doing nothing to rectify a serious defect that was costing people their lives.
All their words of what great companies they were, were belied by their actions.
This is such a classic case of having values that are selfish and win at all costs (even the cost of human life) and the resulting impact to the respective companies.
Another example of leaders who say one thing, but act in a contradictory manner is Enron.
Enron's motto was "Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence." Its "Vision and Values" mission statement declared, "We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves....We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don't belong here."
Here was a company that manipulated their books, lied to employees and stockholders alike, and brought about the largest bankruptcy in US history. They brought about the fall of their accounting firm, Arthur Anderson and ruined the financial lives of many of their employees. In an instant, lives were turned upside down.
Many employees thought they had their retirement nest egg secured by the company’s stocks, based on the word of Kenneth Lay, their reigning chairman. When Enron filed for bankruptcy the stock they owned had dropped from a high of $90 to thirty cents. During its drop in value, Ken Lay continued to email employees that they should buy stock because it would again rise in value. Meanwhile he was selling his own stock.
He clearly was living his values. However, his values did not include the good of his employees nor his stockholders. The results for Ken Lay and other top executives include prison terms, embarrassment, heavy fines, loss of reputation and in Ken Lay’s case, death caused by heart attack.
I could go on and on with examples of companies and leaders that lost their way due to values not being aligned with what they said. But, let’s take a look at a company that made headlines because of their values and actions back in the fall of 1982.
Chicago had 7 people who had mysteriously died. When authorities investigated, the one commonality they all had was they had ingested Tylenol Extra Strength capsules. When they analyzed the capsules, they found they were laced with cyanide.
The immediate reaction of the leaders at Johnson and Johnson, the company that manufactured Tylenol, was to recall every bottle of Tylenol from the shelves of drug stores as well as every bottle that consumers had in their medicine cabinets—a total of 31 million bottles at a retail value of $100 million.
Because of their quick reaction and response, by December 24, 1982, Tylenol had experienced a comeback that captured 24% of the market for over the counter pain relievers.
What a difference in the outcome when leadership’s values are not just words, but actually drive the actions of the company. I encourage leaders to identify their values and then let them be the guiding force in the way they treat employees and make decisions.
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© 2007 Margo Chevers