Corporate Values Just Don’t Matter…Unless

5 Minute Read

Do you remember Enron? What’s hard to fathom is that in 2001 their annual revenues were over $100 billion. They had over 20,000 employees and were one of the largest energy companies in the world. And none of that mattered. The corporation imploded in just a few months. You see, for years before that the top executives had been “cooking the books” and misleading the board of directors, shareholders, consumers and their employees.

Ironically, their stated values chiseled on the wall of their corporate headquarters were “respect, integrity, communication and excellence.” And none of that mattered!

When their scheme became public, within months the company was bankrupt, the pension plans were worth pennies on the dollar and the top executives were disgraced and imprisoned. To add to the tragedy, one even committee suicide.

Their corporate values didn’t matter, because what’s on paper or chiseled on the wall wasn’t being lived out. What really matters is how they lived and acted. Culture is shaped by what the leaders do, by what they encourage and by what they allow. Enron’s top executives “allowed” themselves to scheme, to deceive, to pretend…all to the destruction of the corporation.

By observation I’d say that Enron’s real corporate values were “greed, deception and power.” They built a culture around short-term financial gains, and ignored the long-term destruction that was certain to come.

In addition, Enron’s board of directors had a massive fiduciary failure of loyalty, care and responsibility. Yes, the executives plotted and executed the scheme, but the board turned a blind-eye to their massive mismanagement. All the while accepting compensation of about $350,000 a year per board member.

So, do corporate values matter or not? I’m familiar two organizations that have very different cultures. Neither has stated values, as in, values printed in their annual report or bylaws. But it’s actually pretty easy to discern their values just by walking around and talking to their employees, and observing how they treat their colleagues and those they serve.

Organization A: The CEO holds everyone to very high performance standards, encourages discourse, and walks the talk of integrity and character every day. The CEO and board of directors fully embrace the mission of hope, healing and excellence in programming. From the board of directors on down the line to the volunteers and hourly workers, there is a pride that shines through to all they serve. I’d say their values are: generosity, inclusivity, curiosity, excellence and healing the broken hearted.

Organization B: This leader inherited a broken culture that lacks trust and mission alignment. While the stated mission is inspiring, the sense of cohesion, cooperation and determination is absent. It appears they value fake harmony over honest discourse. I’d say that their values are: safety, silos, status quo, pretending and being right.

In both organizations the defining difference is the leadership!  What the leader says and does (these two have to be congruent), expects and allows…makes all the difference. In the first organization, the leader is someone who is almost always “above the line.” In the later organization, the leader is one of the few people there who is above the line, but so many of the others in influential places are “below the line” it's nearly impossible to gain momentum to improve the culture.

(If you haven’t read my blog from November 17 about being “Above the Line” please watch this 3-minute video. It’s vital for you to embrace the above the line perspective if you hope build or improve a vibrant culture.

Leaders always shape the culture, no matter how large or small the organization. More to come on the importance of values and how to bring them to life in future blogs. I’d love to hear what you think was most impacting you from this blog…just send me a message.

Please share this with your friends who are organizational leaders.


This blog shares perspectives on how you have the ability to create new story endings that are meaningful, powerful and filled with hope. I facilitate culture changing processes that help organizations achieve greater impact. Also, I provide leadership coaching to help executives and aspiring leaders become the fullest expression of who they’re intended to be.

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