11 April 2019

The value in values

by Mark Low

From government to brands, businesses and clubs — values must be modelled from the top down and embraced and owned by employees. When this is done well it can unite a nation and build trust; when ignored, it can lead to a rapid fall from grace. 

In Live, Lead, Learn, author Gail Kelly devotes a chapter to Purpose, Meaning and the Management of Culture in which she explains that ‘Defining the company’s purpose, critically important as it is, is the easy part. Aligning the everyday practices and processes, the decisions and the behaviours, is much harder. Culture is something described as “what happens when no-one is looking”. When no-one is looking, you want to make sure that the company, through all its team members, is living its purpose and values. This is a leadership job. It is relentless. It requires enthusiastically recognising achievements as well as holding individuals to account and taking action when things go wrong.’ 

The recent Hayne Royal Commission uncovered many examples of misconduct, some of the most prominent occurring on the watch of the former CEO and chairman of NAB. Under their leadership, NAB failed to act in the best interests of their customers, charging them $100 million in fees without providing a service. The CEO and chairman failed as a leadership group to live by NAB’s purpose and values. Is this what can happen when ‘no-one is looking’?

For the record, these are NAB’s core values:

Passion for customers – Putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes, finding and delivering the right solutions for them, and fixing things quickly if we get them wrong.

Win together – Going the extra mile for our customers and people, never losing sight of our goals.

Be bold – We aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions and try something different. We back ourselves and are accountable for our actions.

Respect for people – We have real conversations with people, always showing respect and courage. We embrace the things that make us all different and encourage an inclusive culture.

Do the right thing – We make good decisions for our customers, people and communities, even when it’s difficult.

I’m a fan of the outdoor apparel brand, Patagonia. Patagonia is an environmentally aware, sustainable business with a mission and values that ensure they build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. There’s no denying it; I’ve bought into their ethos and I believe they do what they say and live by their values and, in my opinion, deliver a great product. The ideology, which was the vision of their founder Yvon Chouinard, remains unchanged since 1973.

Similarly, across the Tasman in the aftermath of the Christchurch shooting, the world sees a spirited leader, Jacinda Ardern, unite a country following what is described as New Zealand’s worst terrorism attack in the nation’s modern history. In one of her responses, Ardern said simply and powerfully of the dead and wounded, ‘They are us’. She explained that New Zealand has been chosen because it was safe, because it was no place for hatred or racism — ‘Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it.’

Ardern has demonstrated core values to her people and to the world watching — authenticity, clarity, integrity, sympathy and love. She means what she says and says what she means;  unafraid and unbowed while holding individuals to account and taking action.

Word’s in action

Ultimately, it is Ardern’s leadership and behaviour that will help define the people of Christchurch and New Zealand in the weeks, months and years to come. It is Ardern’s values and the values of their country that the people of New Zealand will align and grow with.

Similarly, whether you are a big or small financial services business, an influential brand, university, school or local netball club, the values you stand for need to be clearly communicated to your people and customers so they know what you stand for. Values need to be more than words; they need to be like Ardern’s ‘qualities of action’ or ‘words in action’ so that when no one is looking, your brand, it’s people and even your customers are living and behaving according to its purpose and values. 


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