The Importance of Trust and Values in Workplace Culture

by Bob Helbig

Brand Expert Says Great Companies Put Values Ahead of Profits

How do great companies create long-term success? Not by focusing on the balance sheet, a corporate brand expert says, but by improving people’s lives based on strong, shared values using workplace culture.

“Great companies have an amazing opportunity to provide a lifelong impact on all of the lives they touch,” said Michael Weisman, founder and CEO of The Values Institute, a research and consulting company that stresses the importance of trust and values in corporate culture.

workplace cultureWeisman delivered his message recently to Orange County business leaders at a Top Workplaces event in Anaheim. The advertising executive and brand developer has become increasingly passionate about corporate values since the 2008 recession. He’s spent years working with hundreds of companies, advising C-suite executives, and speaking with thousands of employees.

Five key values-based principles

In his experience, values are what makes great companies great. They define corporate culture: how they imagine, how they invest their time, and how they spend their money.

“Values create the foundation of every successful organization,” he said. “All the choices we make in life are influenced by what we value most.”

Since the recession, consumers expect more than mere transactions. In a values economy, these qualities stand out, Weisman said:

  1. Relationships are more important than transactions. Without good relationships, transactions are not sustainable, he said. Consider Zappos, the online shoe retailer, whose founder, Tony Hsieh, believes it’s in the business of delivering happiness. So much so, Hsieh wrote a book with that title.
  2. Put purpose before profit. “People don’t mind companies that make profits,” Weisman said. “They mind when they grab for our wallets.” He cited Toms, the accessory retailer, which contributes to a person in need with every purchase.
  3. Transparency over opaqueness. Great companies value open, honest communication, Weisman said. Patagonia, which sells outdoor recreational gear, is a big advocate of environmental responsibility, backing it up with detailed information about its supply chain.
  4. Conviction over compliance. Great companies value doing what’s right over what’s expedient, he said. They follow their heart. He cited Panera founder Ron Shaich, whose Panera Cares cafes support people who suffer from hunger by operating on a pay-what-you-can model.
  5. Advocacy over apathy. Put the needs of others ahead of your own, Weisman said. He singled out CVS, the drugstore chain, for its decision to stop selling tobacco products, giving up billions in revenue because it believed those sales conflicted with its mission of supporting customers’ health.

The value of values

Values give purpose, Weisman said. And without purpose, “we simply become economic agents in the pursuit of revenue.”

Employees want to work for companies with values. “What is it your employees are yearning for?” he asked. It’s not just to earn more profit. Leaders should nurture values inside companies to satisfy what drives people.

In a competitive sea of sameness, values help companies stand out. People want to recognize values they share. “Shared values bond us,” he said.

The trust factor

Values are the gateway to trust, which he calls “the most valuable asset of any company.” Over the long term, having repeat customers and developing meaningful relationships creates trust and brings tangible benefits to an organization. Weisman cited a 2002 study by Watson Wyatt that shows high-trust companies outperformed low-trust companies in total return to shareholders by 286%.

High-trust organizations create a “rabid community of advocates.” He added: “Trust is earned; it can’t be bought.”

Weisman urged companies to keep nurturing relationships inside and out. “Living a life of values at home and at work will never show up on a balance sheet, but it will bring you peace and joy,” he said.