I was recently working with a church in Minneapolis with their strategies to reach out to their communities. I showed up early to the meeting and talked with the host of the meeting who is an engineer who now was responsible for bringing in major clients for the organization. He was telling me the story where he was about to bring over a million dollars to his organization, which I congratulated him for. His expression dropped and said there is a big problem – “even though our CEO promises great things, I know for a fact we cannot possibly deliver on this promise”. He said he cannot, with integrity, bring these accounts to the table, so he is going to confront the CEO, and probably need to leave the organization.
Which brings us to the important business question for today: What does our organization stand for, and what is it against? A great book that is used by many business executives is entitled a similar way: “It’s not what you sell, but what you stand for”, where the author says this about core values and leadership:
You can’t delegate the creation of values and purpose to some middle-management function. The leaders at the top of the organization need to unequivocally believe in the values. They need to live them. They need to exemplify them in a way that’s visible to employees throughout the organization. And, ultimately, they need to inspire others to do the same. Without leadership embracing the values, you risk alienating, frustrating, and eventually losing the value driven people in your organization why would really like to channel their talents and energies to make a difference.
Core Values even become more important in an interconnected world because people usually have many options for your type of product or service, and features and benefits do not necessarily win the day. Digital natives are especially excited about what the organization stands for, and will give loyalty to those organizations over other companies in your marketplace.
Core Values also help employees make good decisions without having everything spelled out for them. The now famous core value for Nordstrom’s around customer service is stated: “Use your best judgement, and there are no other guidelines.” This gives well-hired employees the support to aim at that aspirational standard, and the freedom to work it out as they see fit.
Core Values also simplify the decisions for many leaders as they consider opportunities. A real estate developer I know worked with his partner on the few core values they were committed to in their real estate business, which has simplified and clarified what opportunities they will pursue and those they will not. It has helped them enormously through upswings, and downward forces during the Great Recession the world faced in 2007-2009.
The standard of being examples and running organizations by core values is very parallel to what the Apostle Peter counseled leaders if 1 Peter 5:
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
Although this is in the context of leaders of churches, it shows well the values that give leaders integrity, and the emphasis on being an example instead of simply forcing employees to follow what the leaders have no intention of following.
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