Profit and Revenue are Lousy Core Values

Profit and Revenue are Lousy Core Values

As I mentioned last week, I am down with COVID and tired, so spending more time reading rather than working. I read Bill Browder’s Freezing Order this weekend, and I highly recommend it. However, at the end of the book, Browder says that oligarchs, autocrats, and leaders like Mohammed bin Salman are enabled by the professional service providers that help them. As I reflected on this and Browder’s allegations in his book against John Moscow et al., I had to think, why do these lawyers, bankers, accountants, etc., work for these characters? They know the abuses that their clients commit but are willing to overlook them because their clients pay enormous sums. We saw what Paul Manafort earned helping Russia in Ukraine and Jared Kushner’s recent investment from MBS, so money is the driver. However, money is a lousy core value.

Now don’t get me wrong, I would like to earn a lot of money, but I am not willing to sacrifice my core values. If money, or some proxy like revenue or profit, is your core value, you can have no other core values. Money as the core value overrides any additional core values you may claim and justifies any behavior because the behavior is driving money.

Issues with Money as a Value

So if money is the core value, then the firm attracts those who believe in money as a core value; however, that can cause other issues. For example:

  • Loyalty to the firm. If money is the core value, there is no loyalty to the firm as they will move for more money as that is their value. Also, they will do things that can hurt the firm if it brings in more revenue. Here are some examples: Arthur Andersen and Enron, Perdue Pharma and the opioid crises, Boeing 737 Max, and McKinsey’s recent scandals.
  • Loyalty to clients. Again there can be no objection to doing something that harms a client if it makes the firm more money as that is the driver. Bill Browder’s book gave a classic example of this with the behavior of John Moscow and Baker & Hostetler. If my research backs up Browder’s claims, I would never recommend Baker & Hostetler to anyone I know and any attorney there is a damaged product in my book.
  • Loyalty to colleagues. There is none because making money is all-important, so why sacrifice money to help a colleague?

Now, the scandals above made many a lot of money. If money is your driver, then great. But your legacy is what you did for others, and that is how you are remembered once you’re dead. I would not want people to say, “He was responsible for the death and damage of many.” If that is how you are remembered, many will revile you in time, and your family may start to distance themselves from you. I ran into a high school friend several years ago and mentioned I had met her father after his release from prison. She was so embarrassed she walked away and never spoke to me again. So sad.

As I reflect on all the people I have met in my career, I would say that lawyers are the most unhappy and wish to be doing something else. Now that is not all lawyers, just more lawyers than others. I think that is because many law firms have no culture and will act for any paying client. If your client is against your values, you have sacrificed them for money, which leads to unhappiness because, as we have all heard, “Money doesn’t buy happiness.”

Many of the people involved in the above are on the redemption trail, e.g., Andy Fastow from Enron. But, when you look at him speaking and think of how many people’s lives he knowingly damaged, I have to ask, does going on the speaking circuit redeem him? To me, No.

Culture is Critical.

As discussed earlier, Boeing sacrificed decades of industry safety leadership for profit. The Tory party, today, is sacrificing all its value for power. Once you go down that road, your reputation takes a very long time to return and often more than a lifetime. So it is critical to define your core values. I recommend that you determine your core values and define the expected corporate behaviors that your values prescribe. Then stick to them above all else. As Jim Collins said, “You would sacrifice profit rather than your core values.” Also, when hiring, look at where a candidate has come from, and that firm reflects your core values. It is easier to teach a skill than new values.

As you reflect on decisions, always think of your “elder” self looking back at the end of life and ask, is that how I want to be remembered?

(c) Copyright 2022, Marc A. Borrelli

 

 

 

 

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Core Values are Critical

I am currently sick with COVID, so, killing time yesterday, I watched Downfall: The Case Against Boeing about Boeing’s issues with the 737 Max and how the focus and financial results versus anything else led to the problems with the plane. The company focused on production, and so it scrificed safety to meet financial performance. One of the documents in the documentary was a little like Ford’s one with the Pinto. They knew there was an issue but calculated that the odds of people dying were so small that they could figure a solution in the meantime. So over 300 people lost their lives. When the Lion Air accident occurred, Boeing blamed the pilots for not being correctly trained on a system it had not disclosed. When the Ethiopian crash occurred, the pilots had done everything Boeing recommended, and it still blamed them and their training. As a result of the Max crashes, Boeing’s reputation for safety and engineering excellence has been tarnished and will take many years to reclaim.

Whether or not, as the documentary claimed, the move of company headquarters from Seattle to Chicago to separate the engineers from the executives is true, the company sacrificed its core values of safety and engineering for a higher share price. The memos reveal the company’s effort to hide the MCAS system from pilots and regulators, so more certification by pilots would not be required. The company seems to have come a long way from Tex Johnson’s barrel roll of the 707 prototype over Lake Washington in August 1955. during the Gold Cup hydro races, where a crowd of 250,000, including airline executives from around the world, were attending. That sold the aircraft!

The company’s focus on financial performance and share price enabled the price to rise into the $300-$400 range; however, the Max took it below $100, and its performance over the last five years is a loss of 4%. Over the same period, Boeing’s most significant competitor Airbus has seen its share prices increase by 34%. Sacrificing your core values for profit is never the solution, and profit results from your core values, not the driver!

Furthermore, in speaking with an FAA-certified engineer, he said the Max had damaged the FAA’s reputation worldwide. Where once, if the FAA said something was good enough, other countries would follow along, no more.

Finally, one more sad indictment of current U.S. public corporations was when Dennis Muilenburg resigned as the CEO and board director after the two crashes of 737 MAX aircraft and the loss of 300+ people; he received $62.2m in stock and pension awards. But as we repeatedly see, if you are the CEO of a public corporation, accountability is different. You may be fired, but you will get paid very well, unlike anyone else.

(c) Copyright 2022, Marc A. Borrelli

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What has COVID done to Company Culture?

What has COVID done to Company Culture?

The effect of COVID on company culture is an issue for all business leaders to consider seriously. I see the following areas for examination:

  • Have you lived your culture during COVID?
  • How are you maintaining your culture and connections in a WFH world?
  • How are you instilling your culture into new hires in a WFH environment?

Have you lived your culture during COVID?

COVID has forced many companies to pivot, cut costs, and adjust strategy. However, did the leader and management team live up to the company’s culture while executing these changes? As everyone’s cultural values are different behaviors to consider.

  • Did you check in with your employees regularly to see how they were coping?
  • Did you communicate effectively and often with your employees, so they knew what was happening?
  • When making changes, did you explain why and where the company’s new direction was aimed?
  • When terminating people, did you do it in person or by email?

The above is just a sample of behaviors that maybe didn’t live up to the company’s values. If you didn’t, then you need to work hard to fix it. As with any crisis like this, there are a few key steps:

  1. Get in front of it. It has happened, so it is hard to get in front of it. However, do an audit of behaviors and values during COVID. Identify the lapses and then plan accordingly. Don’t wait for the Zoom cooler talk to destroy any belief in the companies values.
  2. Admit It. Let your employees know you recognize that you didn’t live up to your values in the identified situations.
  3. Own It. Say it was the leadership’s fault. The buck stops with you, and that is why you get paid the big bucks! Deflecting the blame will only weaken a fragile state and create further disbelief in any values you may have.
  4. Correct it. Layout a plan to correct the behaviors from happening again and what steps the organization will take to reinforce its values in the future. This plan needs to have SMART metrics tied to it so that employees can see the progress being made and it not just more “CEO Bingo.”

Maintaining your culture and connections in a WFH world?

For many, the move to WFH has gone well overall. Productivity is generally up, and work is getting done. Many CEOs and business leaders are considering to what degree they can allow WFH going forward, permanently, one to five days a week, etc. However, one of the reasons that WFH has gone so well is that before COVID, we had strong relationships with our coworkers. We knew them, had worked with them, and most importantly, had built some degree of trust. But the longer we don’t connect with them, the weaker these bonds grow. While we are connecting with them over Zoom, Teams, Slack, or email, that is not the same as in person. If we lose the culture or connections, it weakens the ability of the company to respond to other threats, and people will leave for companies where they see better relationships.

The more time we are remote, the bonds between us grow weaker. Long distant relationships have a 58% chance of success, basically a coin toss. There are stronger connections in a romantic relationship than a work one, so the chances of a “long-distance” work relationship working are less than 50%. So leaders need to figure out how to maintain the connections and culture among employees as they go forward with a WFH policy. If employees are only going to be in the office rarely, the company needs to increase how it builds connections between employees and promotes its culture.

Regular gatherings of employees at events where they can strengthen their relationships will be essential. Getting them to share personal information to build stronger bonds will also be a crucial part of the effort. Doing this will differ among companies, but figure it out and ensure that the events have a clear purpose that everyone understands and get feedback on to know if you are achieving your goals.

Instilling your culture into new hires

New hires are posing the most difficult challenges for companies. Historically we know that 70+% of people regret making the job change on the first day. Now we are in a WFH environment where there are fewer personal connections. If we cannot build those connections and get them to buy into the culture, they will shortly leave, which is expensive for the organization and poses new problems when people are hard to find.

The leader and leadership team need to work with their HR departments to figure out how to effectively onboard new hires and simultaneously install the firm’s culture and develop personal connections among the teams. Achieving this won’t be easy, but the effort will pay huge dividends.

Why Does This Matter?

It doesn’t take much to destroy the employees’ belief in the company’s values and attribute them to just words on a wall. If this is where you are, the road back to get alignment around values will be hard. Without core values, nothing connects the employees to a common bond and purpose, so they are more likely to leave.

If your employees are not connected, they are less likely to have a good friend at work. Without a good friend in an environment where they spend a third of their time, there is less keeping them attached. With demand for employees increasing, and thus wages, they will be tempted to move if there is no downside to leaving the tribe.

Those organizations that live their culture and whose employees have strong bonds of trust will outperform those that don’t. The work to achieve this is not always easy but very beneficial.

 

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc Borrell

 

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Are you ready for the Talent Crunch?

Companies are looking to hire! According to Vistage research, “The most notable finding from the December survey is that more than two thirds (67%) of small businesses reported plans to increase their workforce in the year ahead, up significantly from 55% in November. These expansion plans among small businesses are the highest since February of 2018.”

At the moment, from what I hear, finding the “right” people is hard. That is because of COVID. People will not:

  • Leave current employment. With COVID, employees are staying put for the moment as the risk of moving is too significant. Everyone is aware of a “last in, first out” bias, so no one is ready to take the risk until things improve.
  • Move. With COVID, employees are unlikely to take jobs in new cities. That is not to say people aren’t moving; they are, but usually back to where they came from, with support systems there. Baby boomers are moving to some excellent early retirement locations. However, average employees are unlikely to move for a job as there is too much risk involved in incurring up and moving expenses when the job is uncertain, and they may have no support structure.
  • Take large risks. There is enough risk right now from COVID, and the economic uncertainty that most people will not take on more for a situation that they feel is very risky.

Current expectations are that we may hit COVID herd immunity in July, with the recovery starting in May or June. If that is the case, businesses will benefit from the pent-up demand that COVID has caused. Thus, we can expect employees to adjust their risk profile and start job hunting and moving just as companies increase their employment demands from Q2 onwards.

What are the employees looking for?

Purpose. For many, COVID has brought home their mortality and causing them to ask if what they do matters. Thus, if the company has no core purpose or “Why?”, or the core purpose doesn’t align with the employees’ purpose, the employees will move to those companies where the core purpose aligns.

Empathy. Many people will feel that their employers/bosses didn’t treat them well during COVID or showed insufficient compassion. They may have had to work through challenging homeschooling or ill parents/spouse with their employer making little allowance.

Living Core Values. Many companies have claimed to have Core Values, but when they are just words on a wall. During COVID, many organizations’ behavior has shown employees that their Core Values are just words and not beliefs, and not living your core values will drive employees and prospects away.

Opportunity. Since we are all mortal and life is fleeting, not only do employees want to work where they believe in what they are doing, but they want to realize their potential. Employers that show no interest in an employee’s career development and personal requirements will find those employees departing.

Character. As a result, employees will look for those companies who have always stated their Core Purpose and Values rather than those who have suddenly “found religion” and hoping that their new statements will make a difference like a fresh coat of paint.

McKinsey research showed that of employees:

  • 82% believed it was important for the company to have a purpose;
  • 72% thought that purpose should have more weight than profit;
  • 62% believed that the company should have a purpose statement; and
  • 42% said that their organizations’ purpose statements drove impact.

So, where does your organization fall? If you don’t have a purpose statement that is driving impact, how will you fare in the looming talent crisis? As I have often said, “How you behave during this crisis will define you for a decade or more.”

Here are some questions to ponder.

  • Do you have a clear purpose?
  • Can you say in one sentence what your organization is passionate about?
  • Why does the organization exist?
  • What are your Core Values, and can you point to those that live them and where they are part of your folklore?

If you can’t answer these, then the Talent Crunch is going to hurt! People will leave for places where they feel their purposes align and people live with similar Core Values. As the economy recovers and demand picks up, most companies will need more people to meet the challenges. If you don’t have enough and cannot hire the type you need, you will be in trouble.

If you don’t have a Core Purpose or Core Values, then you are attracting three basic types of employees:

  1. Walking dead. Can’t get a job anywhere else
  2. In Transition. They need a job, so they will work for you until something better comes along.
  3. Don’t care about a Why. These people do have a Why, but it is usually money and nothing else. At any time they feel they are not getting enough, they are gone. Real mercenaries and not good if you ever expect to hit a rough patch in the future.

If you don’t understand your Why, Simon Senik’s video below will put it better than I ever could.

Remember, a Core Purpose is a deep reflection on your corporate identity—what you really stand for—which may well lead to material changes in your strategy and even your governance. If you don’t have a Core Purpose and Core Values but will start defining them now, I would offer some suggestions.

  1. Get a coach or facilitator to help. Discussions over this can easily get bogged down. Many times, everyone will look to the business owner for guidance, which may be okay. But if the business owner comes up with a bad Why, e.g., profit, will anyone challenge?

2. Don’t make profit your Why, for some of these reasons:

  • No one cares but shareholders, and generally, they are not the ones operating the business.
  • Your customers and suppliers are not impressed that “making a profit” is your Why, as that implies you will take advantage of them.
  • If profit is your why then everyone’s only interest is making money. Thus, anything that will make money is okay. When the company hits trouble, no one will stay and help; they are only there for the money.
  1. Remember Jim Collins’ statement about Core Values, “you are willing to lose money than breach your core values.” So, once you determine, make sure your leadership team and most of your employees can live them. If not, they need to go, as they are not “the right people.”

If you have an excellent Core Purpose and held Core Values, put them on your website, in your recruiting materials, and make sure you live your core values. You will be able to attract some great talent in the times ahead.

 

Copyright (c) 2021 Marc A. Borrelli

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To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate, that is the Question

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate, that is the Question

In my Vistage meetings this week, we had an interesting discussion on whether or not my members would make their employees get a COVID vaccine. While there was a brief discussion on whether or not you could legally make your employees get vaccinated, we primarily discussed what each person would do. (Apparently, you can with two exceptions, medical conditions make it dangerous and religious objections. For more see, Can I Be Required To Get Vaccinated Against Covid-19?). The results were diverse and ranged from:

  • “No!” “I would take it myself but would not force my employees to do so because they may leave.”
  • “I have many conspiracy theorists among a section of my workforce, and they will object.”
  • “No, I don’t want to be sued.”
  • “If they want to travel, they have to.”
  • “If they want to work in the office, they have to as we have health comprised people in the office.”

However, what stood out in the discussion was that none of the CEOs framed their response within their Core Values. Again, as Jim Collins says, Core Values are so important that we would be willing to lose profit rather than breach them. Thus, if our Core Values are that important, indeed, they should frame our response to the vaccination question. If we don’t, then once more, our Core Values are only words on a wall or a pad but have no impact on the organization and behavior in it. In that case, they are worthless, and your employees lose trust in your words and statements because they are just that – words, and not beliefs.

Regardless of whether your Core Values are just words on a wall or actively known by every employee, a complex issue like vaccination stresses them and how they are understood within the organization. Those of you who read my blogs know that I have said that Core Values provide employees a framework for making decisions within an organization. However, if your Core Value is “Respect,” what does that mean, especially in the COVID vaccine world? Does it mean:

  • Out of RESPECT for our fellow workers, we will all vaccinate.
  • Out of RESPECT for you, your opinion, and your decision making, we will allow you to do what you think is best.
  • Out of RESPECT for you, we will enable you to determine what you put in your body.
  • Out of RESPECT for our clients, we will vaccinate those that are client-facing.
  • Out of RESPECT for our employees’ health and decision making, we will allow those that don’t want to be vaccinated to work from home so they can’t infect anyone in the office.
  • Out of RESPECT for our fellow citizens, we will all vaccinate to get to herd immunity quicker.
  • Out of RESPECT for your health-compromised family, we will allow you to work from home until it is safe to return to the office, whether that be one month or five years.

As you can see, a single word like RESPECT can have many different interpretations, and this is where things get complicated. For example, if you determine that your version of RESPECT is the second one, “Out of RESPECT for you, your opinion, and your decision making, we will allow you to do what you think is best.” You apply that to COVID, then surely it applies to all decisions they make within the organization. While we all like to push decision-making down, the leadership team has to be able to override decisions and impose its desires in certain instances. So what are those situations, and where is the line?

Core Values are more than just words or statements. They have meaning, and the organization can only succeed if the intention is understood equally by everyone in the organization. To see how you are doing, ask your employees if they know what the organization’s Core Values are, and how they should be understood. Your employees may often find it hard to define them, so offer them situations and ask, “what should someone in the organization do?”

Here you might find a great deal of diversity of opinion. To overcome this and teach your Core Values, I think the best way is to rely on corporate folklore. Your company needs stories of the founder, the CEOs, the great people in its history, and how they behaved in situations that reflect the company’s Core Values. Having corporate folklore and ensuring that employees learn the stories and their meaning as part of the onboarding process will create greater belief in, and understanding of, your Core Values. Furthermore, make sure to repeat the folklore stories whenever a situation arises where they are relevant. Repeating them drives home learning until everyone knows your Core Values and how they should be interpreted.

Returning to the COVID vaccinations decision. Well, regardless of your Core Values, the decision of whether or not to require employees to be vaccinated will be hard. However, I would recommend that, first of all, you be a leader in your decision and state it with leadership in mind. If you want them vaccinated, be at the front of the line. Second, figure out how your decision fits with your Core Values and explain that way. Of course, it has to work; if it is a stretch or plain contradictory, then maybe you need to re-examine your Core Values.

Good luck, and may you stay safe in the meantime.

 

Copyright (c) 2020, Marc A. Borrelli

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