Corporate Culture: Accountability Means Acting on What You Stand For

How do you build an accountable corporate culture? Microsoft just gave us all a lesson.

If you go to Microsoft’s website and take a look at their corporate values, you will come across this powerful sentence:

We recognize privacy as a fundamental human right.

Inspiring…but there is a potential problem. Just posting those words is not enough to build or sustain a corporate culture that features commitments that support this value. That takes more than words. It takes action.

Action is what the world just got from Microsoft President Brad Smith. Last year he announced that his company will not sell facial recognition systems for the purpose of mass surveillance to governments or to anyone else. Such a decision means losing out on a potentially huge, and lucrative, market in a brutally competitive space…but it also means Microsoft walks its talk.  And that is what builds an accountable corporate culture.

“You have to know what you stand for,” Smith told attendees at a Thomson Reuters event at that time. “You have to be prepared as a business to some degree to connect the courage of your convictions with a hard-headed focus on business.”

He was absolutely right. What you stand for should be detailed in the stated values of your organization. But that is just the beginning. It is only when leadership is committed to those values, and takes clear action on them, even when it hurts, that the rank and file will believe those values are real and will be committed to those values. And that commitment is key to an accountable working culture, which is, in turn, the key to a sustainable long-term business strategy.

Accountable leaders know what they believe and value, and they live those beliefs and values, making decisions that support the values, regardless of whether it is an easy decision or a tough decision. In this case, the decision probably “cost” Microsoft hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. But the tough decision was worth it because by making a decision that supports the company’s values, Microsoft defended not just its culture, but its own sustainability over the long term.

Note that Smith did more than just say he recognized privacy as a fundamental human right. Saying what you value and knowing what you value are two different things. Knowing what you value is always connected to evidence, in the form of action. Anyone can type up a list of values and put them on a website. Accountable leaders ask themselves: Are these values actually showing up in my business as decisions?

If you do not make decisions that align with your stated values, then they are not really your values! On the other hand, when your decisions align with and protect your values, then the people who work for your organization know not only that their leadership is committed to the values, but also that leadership is committed to telling them the truth. That means the employees then know that they should be committed to the values, and also committed to telling the truth.

So. What are your stated values? How do they show up in your decision making? When was the last time people saw you make a tough decision in support of those values, a decision that might have “cost” your organization in the short-term, but that carried the long-term benefits of cementing your relationship to your employees and your relationship with the community in which you do business? Are you willing to make a business decision in support of those values…even if it hurts?

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October 2020
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