In addition to this blog, I've engaged Linkedin, Spinthicket, and Twitter as forums for extending the conversation about values and their importance to client service and how an organization behaves in general.
The conversation has sparked some interesting responses on these forums and through e-mails I've received privately. The comments have ranged from careful articulation of the differences between mission, vision, and values and their importance to any organization to downright cynicism - that in the end, statements of core values are meaningless.
Based on the organization and the commitment of its leadership, both extremes are correct. For example, Michael Dell understood the importance of values to the company's future and effectively reset the organization by demonstrating to his employees that how one achieves objectives is just as important as achieving them. Dell wanted his people to know he was serious about ethics and values. The company's values were not only codified in a document called The Soul of Dell which was written in 2002, but integrated into the employees’ everyday work life.
Conversely, a Harvard Business Review article by Patrick M. Lencioni begins with a list of corporate values: Communication. Respect. Integrity. Excellence. Lencioni writes, "They sound pretty good, don't they? Strong, concise, meaningful. Maybe they even resemble your own company's values, the ones you spent so much time writing, debating, and revising. If so, you should be nervous. These are the corporate values of Enron, as stated in the company's 2000 annual report. And as events have shown, they're not meaningful, they're meaningless."
As part of our conversation on Linkedin, David Kinard described core values this way: "Core values are those "behaviors in action" that are aspired to, recognized when demonstrated, and provide a framework for the interactivity of people and teams within the organization. They also inform the ways that employees will interact with customers and other external constituents."
The challenge as I see it for most companies is this: Can they live their core values during bad times as well as good times? Staying true to your values during good times is fine, but great organizations show their mettle when they remain committed to their convictions during tough times. These are the companies we truly revere - the ones that provide us with the best client service longterm.