The Arthur Page Society Future Leaders Experience gathered recently at the College of Charleston, the fourth of six sessions for the group. In the three-day meeting the group of rising communication stars considered: “Building a Strong Foundation: Values for Our Companies, Our Profession and Ourselves.”

Through a series of case studies, interaction with Page leaders and group discussion, the participants focused on the role values play in our lives as professionals, in our relationship with our companies and in carrying out our responsibilities as counselors and advocates.

Prior to the session, the participants spent time considering the values established and communicated by their organizations, as well as their personal roles in creating, shaping and sustaining these values. They also examined the professional values we maintain and how our day-to-day actions reflect these values.

In one very popular part of the session, participants were challenged by communication students at The College of Charleston to explain their own roles in developing, maintaining and communicating values. These students had researched the participants’ companies prior to the session and wanted to know more about how values figured into key business decisions. The comments by participants during and after the session reinforced the belief that values play an increasingly important role in the corporate communications practice, especially as we seek to restore trust in our organizations and the clients we serve.

When they considered what they had taken from the session the group noted that:

  • We each have a personal as well as a professional responsibility for values.
  • Values have to be developed and evaluated in a deliberate, purposeful way.
  • Values can play a pivotal role in creating an emotional bond with other stakeholders.
  • In many ways, values demonstrate the humanity of the corporation.

In reflecting on the experience, one participant noted “it was eye-opening to see the power of values in building emotion in an organization with many publics. This session was inspiring because values are often not considered as critical as other ‘business’ requirements, yet they are clearly a key issue. It was very valuable, inspiring and motivating to take this learning back to my company.”

Another said that the “session provided valuable and timely insights into the fundamental importance of values, the role of Communications in safeguarding a company’s values and serving as the corporate conscience, and the increasing dangers of straying from values in a world of transparency.”

Clearly the session provoked reactions that were not expected. As one person described it: “I went in thinking this would be a kind of a hokey cheerleading session…but I emerged feeling invigorated. I was inspired by the examples of how people and companies are living their values — this is clearly what it means to live an authentic life or run an authentic enterprise.”

Another summed it up this way

“I will apply what I learned at work and in my personal life. While my company has strong, well-understood values, it is now clear to me that we have not done enough to define what those values mean and how we live them at work and in our decision-making. My conversations with my team will change. On a personal level, I will create my own set of values and visit them periodically as some of the speakers suggested.”

Some may confuse a consideration of Values with “happy talk” but the session in Charleston was about much more than that. The group came away with a renewed appreciation of the connection between Values and Trust. They learned about organizations making very tough decisions by examining what they really believed in and acting in accordance with these beliefs. Many companies fail by focusing solely on shareholder returns at the expense of employees, customers, regulators and communities. The companies that deliver financial returns while also understanding the importance of employee satisfaction, customer loyalty and community impact tend to outperform the ones that only worry about Wall Street.

I have worked with lawyers, journalists and financial analysts my entire career and thoroughly appreciate their understandable skepticism about these concepts. That’s their job. But it doesn’t negate the fact that some companies have been very deliberate in turning well-crafted and well-managed values into sound decisions and financial success. For the Future Leaders, these concepts clearly resonated in Charleston.

By Tom Martin
Executive-in-Residence, Department of Communication
College of Charleston