By Susana Sierra, CEO BH Compliance
Reality has taken over fiction, and this is demonstrated by great streaming successes based on real events. For example, the series WeCrashed tells the story of WeWork, a company that in 2010 came to change the way of working (before the pandemic), through shared offices or temporary leasing of these, and that in its heyday, managed to be a “unicorn”, reaching a valuation of US$ 47 billion, with great expansion plans. However, in 2019, it was on the verge of bankruptcy, and its extravagant CEO and founder, Adam Neumann, retired from the business, after a string of bad practices that made him take his eccentricity to the limit, deviating from what he really was and what his company promised.
Another example is the Drop Out series, which tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos, which claimed to save lives with just a drop of blood. Her promise was to make lab tests more accessible and less expensive, but she lied about the actual performance of the technology she claimed to have developed, taking advantage of investors and putting at risk human lives, who relied on tests whose results were far from reality.
And to learn about the history of Uber, there is Super Pumped, the series that shows the story of Travis Kalanick, co-founder of the transportation application, who had to resign from his position after a series of controversies that include malpractices and accusations of sexual harassment. The company has generated worldwide debate since its inception, given the lack of regulation, and recently, due to the journalistic leak that reveals the brutal lobbying that would have been exercised to continue operating.
All these companies are known for the technological disruption they caused at the time and for how they changed the paradigm in the way we work, take blood tests, or take a cab. They are all companies whose founders wanted to change the world, but who got lost along the way because they deviated from their purpose and went on to carry the very values that made their companies what they were or wanted to be.
To understand well, corporate values are the principles that define and guide the company’s criteria in the way it acts and performs, both internally and externally, and that signifies its competitive advantage, which makes it unique.
The purpose, on the other hand, is the ability of companies to create value in society, always linked to the business strategy, but looking beyond, because today it is important to grow in balance with the environment.
That said, it does not mean that companies that declare values are good per se, because the important thing is not to set a list of good intentions, but that their leaders are able to convey to the entire organization what moves them, showing them that there are different scenarios, that they must face gray areas and be prepared to do so in the right way, and not on the basis of short-term objectives or poorly placed incentives.
Therefore, in convulsive and uncertain times, such as the ones we are living in, where the political, economic, socio-cultural, and environmental paradigm has changed, and where technology is the main piece in the transformations, we are forced to rethink who we are, where we are, where we are going, why we are going to do it and, above all, how we are going to do it. And to resolve these questions we must keep sustainability, ESG criteria, and each of the stakeholders in perspective.
The task is not easy, because change is difficult, and we do not like to look at ourselves with self-criticism or risk the unknown. But the introspective exercise must be a priority to continue subsisting in a changing environment, where we must not only seek to maximize profits for shareholders but also look at the needs of all our stakeholders and have an impact on society, always based on continuous improvement and constant measurement of each action, to move forward and be consistent with the purpose.
That is why the role of leaders is key, as they have the great responsibility to act in congruence with the values and pass them on to each member. Responsible leadership is aware of its role not only within the company but also with society in general, because when ordinary citizens learn of bad practices, such as those committed by the leaders of WeWork, Theranos, or Uber, they question the entire company and not just the leader, in addition to putting the private sector in general in the same bag, increasing distrust towards companies and affecting their reputation.
If we add to this the fact that any detail can be amplified on the Internet and social networks, it becomes essential to be and to seem. Although the yardstick by which citizens measure companies is increasingly higher and tolerance is increasingly smaller, what should really move them is to have values in which they truly believe, because they will be the foundation of their purpose and, therefore, of their success.
Let us not allow good intentions to get in the way because of expectations that escape from what “we are”, and let us be aware that a large part of success is centered on the “how”.