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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Wellness in the Headlines
(Don's Report to the World)

Corporate Values: PR Or The Real Deal?

Wednesday March 24, 2004


Everybody favors values, or at least claims to. Religious zealots like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and legions of Republican right-wing activists speak and act as if only THEIR values (theocratic) are worthwhile or even acceptable. They seek to impress these values on everyone else--and proselytize accordingly. In societies less democratic than our own, even MORE extreme religious zealots go farther in order to impose THEIR values--they employ terror campaigns of mass murder! In their view, their values trump everyone else's. 

Among the values we in Western societies cherish that they abhor are those of a democratic nature. Recently, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a top leader of Al Qaeda, defined one of his group's strongest values--the elimination of OUR value of liberty. He wrote, "Where there is liberty, there is no chance for totalitarian theocracy." (Source: "Al Qaeda's Wish List," David Brooks, New York Times, March 16, 2004.) Well, I suppose that's true--not many votes are taken in totalitarian theocracies, nor are the rights of minorities given much respect. The al-Zarqawi value system and the somewhat less doomsday but equally poisonous Robertson/Falwell/Republican right-wing value ideologies do not contain many opportunities for reason or compromise.

Values are a hot topic in the American corporate world, as well, though not to the point that fundamentalists for Coke's values blow up Pepsi soda pop vendors or anything like that. Instead, corporate value discussions are at a more civilized level. Yet, the stakes are high in this case, as well. Company value discussions are usually about "corporate cultures," yet another term for values. Since the onslaught of corporate scandals (Enron, TYCO and Martha Stewart, for instance), many executives of large companies have gone public with PR offensives regarding the merits of their respective corporate values. They want good press and they seek to encourage other company officials to adopt value initiatives.
 
Last week, 400 business leaders gathered in Tampa to listen to spokesmen from two major companies that have led the way promoting strong corporate value systems among employees. Both described their approaches to value driven management. One of the speakers was the chairman of the very successful Anheuser-Busch Company headquartered in St. Louis, August Busch III. How successful? According to local reporter Robert Trigaux, who penned a story about the gathering in the St. Pete Times entitled "Top companies put values in action" (March 17, 2004), the company's "products range from Budweiser beer to Tampa's Busch Gardens and SeaWorld theme parks, employs more than 23,000 people and had 2003 sales near $16-billion. It also outperformed the S&P stock market in each of the past periods of five, 10, 15 and 20 years."

Mr. Busch the 3rd discussed the vision, mission and ten values of his company. Keep in mind the company was listed by Fortune magazine (March 8) as one of the nation's "most admired" companies and as No.1 in the beverage industry. The three parts of the Anheuser-Busch vision, mission and values are:

Vision:

Through all of our products, services and relationships, we will add to life's enjoyment.

Mission:

Values: 

Values, Busch explained, should facilitate an environment that encourages innovation, hard work, accountability and reward, and enable the company to reach long-term goals. The values should inform employees and the public about what is expected. Clear values constantly reinforced with unmistakable policies encourage everyone to adopt and abide by the highest standards. Even the minutiae of everyday practical decision-making can be connected with the ten values at Busch. For instance, a sub-value encourages every Busch employee to "come to a meeting with all his or her data, experience and arguments boiled down to a single piece of paper with no more than five bulleted points." 

Also speaking at the Tampa values gathering was John Allison, the CEO of BB&T, a large North Carolina conglomerate of dozens of banks and insurance agencies with $90 billion in assets. The values of BB&T are intended "to give everyone a sense of purpose about the core values of the organization." The core values are taken seriously, according to Mr. Allison. They are reinforced at orientations and in all continuing education programs. Company managers are assessed on their performance twice a year--and no less than fifty percent of these evaluations are based upon the extent to which BB&T's core values were implemented by the manager. Mr. Allison, who claims his values have been Inspired by Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Jefferson, summarizes the company values as common decencies that champion honesty, objectivity, justice and self-esteem, all merged with rational self-interest and other unmentioned elements of free-enterprise. (Presumably these do not include rapacious exploitation of others or disregard for shareholders! Given the record of CEOs in recent years, it is hard not to be a little bit cynical.) 
 
Many of those at the Tampa gathering agreed on the importance of practical measures and reinforcements for company values. BB&T and Anheuser-Busch seem serious about their values. Other companies, however, have much to do if they are to ensure that value declarations do not become "bromides and clichés" that sound good but are disconnected from the work of their employees. Hear hear. That is the problem with the values of too many theocratic governments, not to mention states such as our own as exemplified by this present Administration, that talk a good game but act badly when values become inconvenient or impediments to their hold on power. 
 
So, all this invites a bottom-line summary assessment of the question asked at the beginning of this piece: Are corporate values so much PR or are they the real deal? I vote for the former, wish for the latter and choose to look on the bright side. What about you? Be well.

Domain: mental
Subdomain: factual knowledge

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