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Espousing values like ‘integrity’ and ‘empathy’ is actually a bit valueless because no one espouses the opposite – a lack of integrity or empathy. However, values can be made meaningful!

James Comey, the FBI director sacked by President Trump, showed how, with the guidance he gave his leadership teams. By combining values, we think he gave them life and meaning; he would teach that great leaders are

(1) people of integrity and decency;

(2) confident enough to be humble;

(3) both kind and tough;

(4) transparent; and

(5) aware that we all seek meaning in work.

We would also teach them that

(6) what they say is important, but what they do is far more important, because their people are always watching them. In short, we would demand and develop ethical leaders.”

But you can’t build a company culture on simply those six (admirable) leadership qualities. They have to convert into action.

We believe that delivering measurable results can be achieved by demanding certain behaviours. In our company, where we work to build clients’ reputations and drive change, we’ve defined four exceptional behaviours that we demand of ourselves and each other, and we talk about them almost daily:

1.   Excellence

2.   Strong & Honest Relationships

3.   Creativity

4.   Nimbleness.

1.   Excellence

Easily said, hard to do. For instance:

  • Most companies employ people to ‘fill a role’ – someone leaves and they quickly scout about to find the best person available. It would be different if they waited, until they found an excellent person. It’s the Jim Collins ‘Good to Great’ approach to building companies. There may be short-term pain, but with long-term gain.
  • Most employees would work differently if the demanded outcome was ‘excellence’.
  • In many professional services there is a mantra that clients only get what they pay for; fit the project to the budget and when the money runs out the work stops. Or price projects to be competitive. In a workplace that demands excellence, the work gets done despite the budget; the discipline is to quote appropriately to start with.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t tough decisions: if a document is needed by COB, then excellence requires that the editing stops on deadline; in TV journalism for instance there is no point in making one last phone call if the program has a black hole where your story was meant to be. The excellence is in planning and executing on the timeline.

Where excellence is demanded and achieved, a solid reputation follows. But that alone is not enough.

2.   Strong and Honest relationships

How often have you held back on telling the truth? It happens at home with unresolved arguments and at work with unspoken impasses.

This is the hardest behaviour, and the most rewarding.

In an honest conversation, if a person asks a question, an honest answer is given. Sometimes this is difficult because the answer is confronting, but finding a way of being honest in these situation leads to the ideal relationship: a strong and honest one. And ‘fake’ questions soon stop if honest answers are always given.

Susan Scott wrote in her book ‘Fierce Conversations’ that a relationship is simply built on a succession of conversations, and each conversation (or interaction by email, phone, etc) leaves a tail. It can be a good or bad tail, but they are often long remembered.

A strong and honest conversation also demands the art of listening. Stephen Covey famously wrote ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’. Have you noticed in meetings that some people rush to make their point early? But early point scoring is silly, as the decisions are made at the end of the meeting. Strategic, carefully chosen input after listening to all the arguments and understanding the dynamics of the room is more valuable, for everyone.

Among agencies, there is pressure to tell clients what they want to hear. But we find that a client’s opinion of us goes up if we find a way to tell the unpalatable truth. We may lose the job, but a values-driven client, the one we want, will work with our recommendation if it fits the company’s objectives.

3.   Creativity

There is an argument about the merits of hard work versus creative work. I think both: work hard, creatively. And for people who don’t see themselves creatively, or as creative as others, with hard work we believe that everyone can learn to be creative. A story or campaign idea might not start off successful. But with practice and consistency, year in and year out, even the most creatively-challenged can come to work with better, stronger ideas.

Find your creative niche and then go for it.

4.   Nimbleness

These days it is not an option, but nimbleness needs to be stated because many people struggle with change. In the Public Relations and Communications sand-pit  – media, stakeholders, communities, politics, and how they interact – the dynamics change constantly. Our main objectives may stay the same, but how we achieve them must be fluid.

Author Peter Wilkinson

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