Does Your Company Live Its Values?

May 19, 2015, Roger Bolton

There are many reasons companies ignore their own values. Many leaders don't really believe the stated values and instead live by an unstated set of principles that are much more expedient – often driven by short-term financial gain. Others simply don't take the time to think through carefully how to bring those values to life.

Here's an example of a company that takes its values seriously. Aetna recently announced a pay raise for its low-wage employees to $16 per hour. NPR reported, “[Aetna CEO Mark] Bertolini says even if it doesn't boost profits — and maybe even if it costs the company something — raising wages is still the right thing to do." From Aetna's values: “Integrity – We do the right thing for the right reason."

But Bertolini also sees the move as helping to improve employee engagement, which he believes will also improve customer service. He told PBS, “The idea was, is, if people can't make ends meet at home with food and with benefits, health — health care in particular, how can they be present, engaged, knowledge workers in the workplace when they come to work?" And also, “The higher your turnover, the more difficult it is to carry on a culture that's focused on taking care of customers in a knowledgeable and more empathic way." From Aetna's values: “Caring – We listen to and respect our customers and each other so we can act with insight, understanding and compassion."

I'll admit to some bias here, and in full disclosure, I helped create an earlier version of the Aetna values. When I was there, we worked hard to align the values with business goals and strategy, and to bring them to life through our decisions, actions and behaviors. Bertolini was a part of the team then, and I'm glad to see that as CEO, he led a refresh of those values – a good idea that keeps them front and center.

Now, he has taken a bold step that speaks volumes about the company's genuine commitment to its values. That can make a big difference to employees and customers alike. PBS reported that employee Erica Garcia said, “I think what it does is helps me feel comfortable in my decision that I wanted to — to stay with Aetna long-term."

By helping employees feel good about their company and the ways in which its values align with their own, Bertolini is honoring the Page Principle that says, “Realize a company's true character is expressed by its people."

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