How true is your company to its stated core values or desired culture? I assert that in every company there’s a gap. Despite any CEO’s most concerted and heartfelt efforts, there’s some difference between your highest aspirations for what you want your company to be, for your employee behavior, for your own leadership—and the sometimes ugliness of reality.
I love this question. I love it so much I posed it to this week’s guests: Rick Jackson, Founder and CEO of Jackson Healthcare, and Eric Tanenblatt, Chair of Dentons‘ US Public Policy practice. Dentons is the largest law firm in the world. These two seriously heavy-hitters came to CEO Exclusive to talk about goBeyondProfit, an organization dedicated to sharing the stories of businesses who care and encouraging corporate generosity in all its varying forms
The awards program at goBeyondProfit highlights business examples of great corporate citizenship, philanthropy, and community involvement. The process of evaluating the companies who receive their award and how to think about authenticity of these aspirations is the subject of this week’s article.
What Are We Looking For?
goBeyondProfit has a pledge that it asks business leaders to make which states “We will actively find ways to leverage our company’s resources to further benefit the community. We are committed to offering our employees opportunities to volunteer their time, skills and expertise to help support community needs and will encourage our employees to volunteer on their own as well. We are committed to contributing company financial resources to company initiatives supporting our communities. We will find ways to create a culture of collaboration and community engagement, volunteerism and giving back within our company.”
To evaluate whether companies are fulfilling the pledge for purposes of their award, they have a detailed application, reviewed by fellow business leaders, that look at the time, talent, treasure, and culture applied to the pledge statements. In the end, Rick and his team are using subjective judgement to determine how companies are going above and beyond just making a profit.
The folks at Conscious Capitalism are using a similar subjective approach with their credo. They elucidate the four pillars of Conscious Capitalism: Higher Purpose, Conscious Leadership, Conscious Culture, and Stakeholder Orientation. We discussed these in detail on the show with their CEO Alexander McCobin a few weeks ago.
In both of these cases, the values that business leaders are being asked to espouse are made clear. Adoption is a matter of raising your hand, taking the pledge, and asking to be a part of the movement. But, how do they know if a business is keeping its promise?
Culture and Values Gap
The goBeyondProfit pledge is beautiful…so is the Conscious Capitalism Credo…so are the values on your website, or the wall in your breakroom. And then there are the real people trying to live these values. We talked about this issue at length on the show with PJ Bain and Stephanie Wargo from Prime Revenue—the Integrity vs. Human Nature episode.
Using this thought experiment to discuss the gap, I asked Tanenblatt, “Eric, you say, in the corner office, in D.C, ‘We really want to have a great culture that instills all of these great values’, but then, all the way in China, or in California, there is some really miserable, unhappy, mean lawyer…”
His response is very similar to many CEOs who have been on the show, “Well, you have to practice what you preach. The assemblage of law firms that now make up Dentons, are all people with deep ties to their community. If the culture of the organization is such that it promotes and encourages engagement in the community, if that’s not something that you want to do, you’re going to not fit in.”
Like many, Eric believes in a self-correcting culture. So, that miserable, mean lawyer in California will either adjust to the culture, or she won’t last. Once the values are entrenched, people who agree become advocates; people who disagree become uncomfortable. Yet, there’s also this sense that self-correction may not be enough. As Deke Cateau, CEO of AG Rhodes, put it, “I need to know that the values are not just lip service. If there are gaps, I want to know where.”
So, Why Does it Matter?
If cultures are self-correcting, why does this matter? Let’s just leave them to self-correct, right?
Rick and his team at goBeyondProfit are working tirelessly to create a movement that changes the way business leaders think and ultimately the way businesses operate. They aren’t the only ones; many of us want to see the power of business used to “make the world a better place.” A lofty, but highly desirable goal. We want this to happen in real life, with real people.
So, here’s the nightmare scenario, for me: I have a guest on the show, and I hold them up as a paragon of conscious business. They spend half of the show talking about fairness and integrity. They talk about their triple bottom line. They discuss their inspiring community service program. Then, there’s something that comes out later that they’re using child labor in China; or they’re under investigation for fraud; or they have a backlog of sexual harassment lawsuits.
If this becomes a trend with me or goBeyondprofit or Conscious Capitalism, no one will believe in the movement. I believe that if we don’t address the gap, we can’t be authentic and credible. In reflecting on this, I want to get ahead of the issue, because it’s inevitable at some point. Because I have culture-centric, high performing companies on my show, it may not be a big issue. But, I tend to believe it’s never benign. You’ll never hear an oncologist say, “You have a little cancer. Let’s not worry about it for now.”
Inspect What You Expect
To keep this values gap from metastasizing, Rick says, “People don’t do what you expect, they do what you inspect, and then give them feedback. So, it [their community involvement] is an expectation, a goal, every year by every manager. To me, it needs to be, not only led by example, and that’s what we’ve done probably until about two or three years ago, but now, we’ve seen such a benefit of it, that we want to make sure that it’s the fabric. That we expect it, we inspect it and then we give feedback, to make sure that it’s actually happening on as many levels as we can.”
The answer lies in measurement. If you want to manage the values gap, I believe you need to measure it. It needs to be measured separately from employee engagement, employee satisfaction, stakeholder engagement or many other statistics that are often quoted as proxies. Because culture is the underlying driver of these other measures, it should be measured in its own right.
How closely is your company adhering to its desired values? I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s probably not 100%. And this is where you, my audience, have asked me to take CEO Exclusive; talking about failure. Talking about what’s actually in the gap. The challenge for me is that guests absolutely hate it. Guests do not want to talk about the places in their business that are out of alignment with their cultural values. Or even more frightening, the places in their own leadership that are inconsistent with those values. Don’t panic. It’s never our goal to cast our guests in a bad light. So, we’re working on how to do this in a way that makes sense. In the meantime, we can all take the goBeyondProfit pledge. We have to start somewhere.