Why Power Values

From The 3 Power Values by David Gebler

The quality engineer couldn’t believe what his manager was saying. When a batch of more than a million bottles of St. Joseph aspirin failed a key quality test, the engineer did what Johnson & Johnson quality professionals had been doing since the famous Tylenol crisis of 1982. He blocked that batch from shipping. Now he was sitting in his boss’s office, and the manager was reading him the riot act. “Do you like working here?” the manager asked. “Then make sure this shipment passes. There’s no reason it should fail.”

What an irony, the engineer thought. Back in the 1980s, quality professionals were the white knights of the company. Entrusted with enforcing the highest standards, they had the power to stop any shipment. Now it was different. Leaders once honored for their integrity were saying one thing and doing another. The company was facing tremendous pressure to cut costs, and harried operations managers were reluctant to throw away millions of bottles of product. So they came down hard on the quality engineers. And sure enough: many of the engineers no longer had the commitment to hold fast to their convictions. They buckled under the pressure.

Since 2009, Johnson & Johnson’s famed consumer products division has announced eight recalls. These included a recall of 136 million bottles of children’s Tylenol, the biggest children’s drug recall of all time. Congressmen have scolded J&J at public hearings. The information they received, said one, “paints a picture of a company that is deceptive, dishonest, and has risked the health of many of our children.”

Johnson & Johnson? How could a company with the reputation of J&J have screwed up so badly? How could one of the most admired companies of all time squander its integrity?

J&J took its values for granted. Leaders failed to see warning signs that business decisions made deep within the organization were inhibiting managers and employees from doing the things that preserved J&J’s most valuable asset: trust.

Preventing corporate train wrecks. It’s not as if people in the business community aren’t paying attention to values. Countless corporate leaders have written about the importance of values and doing the right thing. Management gurus such as John Kotter and Jim Collins have shown how to calculate the ROI of values. And many consultants and business leaders talk about the need to instill personal responsibility and a sense of mission.

The mistake is that we have been looking at the problem from the wrong direction. Our managers and employees do not need to be ‘taught’ the right values. They already embody them. What’s needed is to remove the roadblocks. It’s the roadblocks that prevent good people from doing the things that keep companies honest and sustainable for the long haul.

The Power Values provides a new roadmap by showing leaders how to remove the roadblocks to performance. It provides plenty of lively anecdotes and case studies. But it also outlines the steps companies can take to increase the positive by removing the negative.

Leaders say don’t have time for culture; they want results. But the day-to-day reality of getting the job done often gets in the way of performance. Smart people are making poor decisions. People are getting distracted from doing their jobs well. They get frustrated when they can’t overcome institutional obstacles blocking their objectives. Employees and managers must navigate a sea of competing priorities and challenges, all of which threaten to hinder their efficiency and effectiveness. If compromising their principles and values seems likely to lead to better performance, they may compromise their principles and values.

That’s a pervasive problem. But many leaders don’t even know where to look for solutions.

  • Most organizations, for example, have little idea whether their culture hinders or supports performance or the implementation of their strategies.
  • Most organizations are not aware of whether their culture is generating unacceptably high risks of unethical or illegal conduct.
  • Most organizations are unable to create a common culture across all their teams, divisions, and newly acquired companies, generating frustration that can lead to undesired behavior.

Senior leaders prefer to focus on strategy, leaving day-to-day implementation of the strategy to line managers. Line managers themselves focus on results and goals. And nobody focuses on culture. And yet it’s the biggest single obstacle to performance.

Companies have the ability to change a culture that stifles innovation, sidesteps accountability, and generates fear of raising issues or difficult news. Indeed, they may have an obligation to do so, because companies that can change will have a competitive edge over those that can’t.

How can companies get this edge?

Most employees have a strong sense of the values and behaviors required for the organization to succeed, and the values and behaviors that help or hinder their work environment. Most employees believe in innovation, accountability, and a collegial and supportive work group. But leaders need to let employees live their values by removing the obstacles to doing so.

The first step is to understand what drives people’s behavior. While we would like to think that we are masters of our own decisions, the hard reality is that individual behavior is heavily influenced by social norms and expectations. Employees often find themselves engaged in behavior that they are not proud of. They have been pressured, influenced and otherwise lured into doing things they did not set out to do. Since employees know what they should be doing, organizational programs to teach the “right” behaviors are often ineffective. What employees need is help in removing the factors that generate negative behavior. These factors include performance expectations and social pressures of what to say and not say. These factors are influenced by the culture.

Culture is often, and aptly defined as “how we do things around here.” But to change a culture, leaders need a more quantifiable model that can indicate where and how the organization is behaviorally challenged.

The Power Values presents a definitional model of organizational culture that permits leaders to see what factors can be influenced to effect change. The key factor in determining whether a culture is functioning well, or not, is how successfully the organization has aligned three core elements: its goals (what it does), its standards of behavior (how it does it) and its values (why it does it).

Leaders then need to understand how to drive behavior change. It turns out that just three specific values—commitment, integrity, and transparency— can create a simple roadmap to design the culture changes leadership needs.

The Power Values provides leaders with a pragmatic user’s guide to harness these three “Power Values.” Commitment links values to goals by smoothing out ways for employees to feel engaged and connected. Integrity links the walk (standards) with the talk (goals), building trust by generating consistency and predictability. Transparency creates an open environment where employees can express their values without fear.

Organizations where employees live these “Power Values” are marked by dedication, openness, and personal responsibility. Employees take the initiative to ensure that the company can achieve its goals in the short-term without sacrificing long-run sustainability. It helps them create a culture that yields positive results by removing the roadblocks that impede progress.

How to do it?

The Power Values walks leaders through three steps necessary to effect behavior change. Each of these steps encompasses many tools that are already in place in their companies. They just haven’t been used to their fullest potential.

Collect the Data: The Power Values provides clear guidance to identifying and quantifying the key performance indicators that reveal the drivers of behavior and the gaps in how employees relate to your company’s Values, Goals, and expected Standards of Behavior.

Connect the Dots: The success of the organization in creating a culture that removes the roadblocks depends on creating a fully aligned culture. The Power Values provides a step-by-step process that reveals how the Power Values of Commitment, Integrity and Transparency create alignment among Values, Goals, and Standards. This process uncovers areas of risk and reveals the cause of the gaps. Organizations can then identify and prioritize the interventions needed to reestablish a dynamic and effective organizational culture.

Change the Game: The Power Values outlines the steps needed to create action plans that define specific tasks for leaders, managers, and line employees to bring Commitment, Integrity and Transparency into the organizational culture.

The Power Values tracks the stories of companies such as Boeing that have applied the Power Values to gain or regain leadership positions and companies such as Johnson & Johnson that have squandered the Power Values at the expense of reputation and trust in the market.

The author, David Gebler, understands how strategies and leadership initiatives play out in the field. With more than 20 years’ experience in advising global organizations on ethics, values, and culture matters, David has seen that the root causes of unethical conduct are the same factors that lead to ineffective execution of strategy. To help his clients construct action plans to get employees on board, David uses a powerful values-assessment methodology that has been implemented in more than a thousand organizations worldwide. Through these tools, David has seen the power of Commitment, Integrity, and Transparency—which is why he calls them the Power Values.