Why did you fire John?

Why did you switch providers?

Why did you hire Jill?

Why did you reduce the marketing budget?

Why did you change the brochure?

I ask my clients and executives questions like this all time. Here’s why. I should be able to ask you “Why did you do that?” for any action, and you, or anyone else in your organization, should be able to tell me how it falls in line with the vision and values of your company.

Executives ask me all the time to share the best and worst management practices I’m seeing. It’s cliché, but the single biggest issue I see day in and day out is companies straying from their vision and values (or not having them in the first place!)

If a decision can’t be linked back to the overall values of the company, then it’s likely they’re continuously making one bad decision after the other. Now that’s not to say the bronze plaque on the wall is the end and be all guiding light for all decisions. My mentor, Alan Weiss, once wrote, “Do you think people believe what they read on the walls, or what they see in the halls?”

Consider a company with the following values posted on their website:

“Everything we do is built on trust. It doesn’t happen with one transaction, in one day on the job or in one quarter. It’s earned relationship by relationship.”

Wow! Those sounds like fantastic values from a wonderful company we’d all like to hand over buckets of money to! They sound like a breath of fresh air.

But what if I told you those are the values of Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo…where it was recently discovered that employees had opened over two million (that’s not a typo…two million!) fraudulent bank and credit card accounts behind their customer’s backs to meet quotas. Weiss was right, people don’t care what’s on the walls, they believe what they see in the halls. This was clearly acceptable behavior, endorsed by those in the middle and those at the top, making their vision and values about as useful as termites.

There was nobody at Wells Fargo who believed that they could say to their manager “I can either open ten new credit card accounts per day to meet my quotas, or I can act in a way that builds trust with our clients, but I can’t do both. I can also ignore everything and start opening up fake accounts to hit our unrealistic goals, and hope nobody finds out. Which do you prefer?”

Nobody was willing to speak up or take a stand. Where’s Snowden when you need him?

Your mission, vision, and values can either be some of the most useless or the most powerful tools you’ve got. Having all this great material on your website and not having the practice of asking, “How does this action fit with our mission statement?” make them useless. But allowing those words to guide each and every strategic and tactical decision makes them some of the most useful tools within any organization of any size.

For Wells Fargo, I believe the fraud was too far gone for anyone to stop it, but a corporate culture defined by executives, managers, employees, and janitors willing to point to the wall and say, “What you’re asking me to do violates our values”, is one that will thrive in today’s competitive marketplace.

Will you let your corporate mission, vision, and values define you, or destroy you?

Your challenge for this week: Ask one of your direct reports to do something that you know goes against your values as a company, and see if they challenge you on it.

IMPORTANT NOTE: It goes without saying, stop them before they’re allowed to carry out the destructive behavior if they don’t challenge you!