Let us suppose that we were asked for one all-purpose bit of advice for management, one truth that we were able to distill from the excellent companies research. We might be tempted to reply, "Figure out your values system. Decide what your company stands for."

– Thomas J. Peters & Robert H. Waterman, Jr.

In Search of Excellence

In their classic book, McKinsey consultants and management gurus, Tom Peters and Bob Waterman devote a chapter in the book, In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best Run Companies, to values and their critical importance to the success of companies. Values are the foundation upon which all of the rest of a business's objectives, strategies and structures rest. Regardless of a company's products, services, management structure, or strategies, values fundamentally are the deciding factor in a company's success or failure.  Yes, a business needs to offer what the market desires at an appropriate price. However without living its values in every decision it makes a business will ultimately decline or cease to exist.

The same is true of your career, the Business of You. Your values reflect how you make every decision you make, whether you invest in yourself or not, whether you give your all at work every day or not. When we look at successful people we so often look at what they are doing and miss the critical point about how values formed the foundation for that success. We often only notice values in their role in the collapse of individuals' careers and business. The fact that a failure of values shows up so significantly in failures also belies their importance.

Examples of corporate failure to live their values and fail as a consequence abound. In these cases while corporate values existed, the behavior of executives and employees was simply not consistent with these values. In essence these companies lost their way and suffered as a result. 

When Barclays appointed a new CEO, Antony Jenkins, he said as much as when it became clear that Barclay's had been rigging the LIBOR interest rates. One of his first actions as CEO was to establish a new set of values and enforce the importance by evaluating all employees in their annual reviews on how well they are living the values. He also made it explicitly clear that if you don't share these values that Barclays has then Barclays in not an appropriate place for you to work. By both holding everyone accountable for living the Barclays values and inviting employees to stay or go Jenkins is taking these foundational vales to the next step to create a successful corporate culture based on these values.

When Tiger Woods failed to live up to his personal, both his game and his personal brand collapsed. He has not been the consistent Number 1 performer he was. Corporate sponsors abandoned him and endorsement deals dried up. His failure to live up to the values that made him a loved and respected sports icon cost him dearly both personally and professionally.

Do such high profile examples of the importance of personal values relate to you? Absolutely. Everyone one of us is faced with decisions every day that affect our careers and the companies we work for. Generally the failures of most people to live up to their values are not newsworthy, so we don't hear about them. Nor are the cases where people who follow and live their values to success. In Leadership Development, Personal Integrity and Two Car Accidents, I discuss two stories with different outcomes both involving a common event that could happen to anyone, a car accident in the parking lot at work. Both stories start out similar with a car accident; however, they both end differently based on each person's values based response under stress. One chose to proactively inform a security officer, the other when confronted lied. One earned the respect of senior management at the company he worked for; the other was arrested and lost his job. Both made decisions based on their values. Neither was a bad person, but they ultimately had different decision making processes.

Most people don't give much thought about their values in a deliberate way that a company does. There is a great advantage to you and your career if you take this corporate practice and apply it to yourself.

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