“Trust Better Be Your Most Important Value” – Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO
Given the turbulent times we live in, it is refreshing when we hear a corporate leader explain the importance of trust as a corporate value. Marc Benioff is the CEO at Salesforce who is aggressively pushing his company to meet a target revenue of $20 billion by 2022.
More importantly, at a recent panel discussion at the Davos World Economic Meeting, Benioff gave a powerful explanation of the importance of trust as a corporate value. He illustrated his point by referencing the absence of trust at Uber, the discrimination and harassment scandal, and the problem when a company ignores trust and focuses on profitability as its most important value.
Interestingly, the media reported Benioff’s statement as condemning the culture of Silicon Valley technology companies. His message, however, applies across the board to every company in the global economy.
Benioff’s comments are required watching/listening to every chief compliance officer, CEO, senior executive and corporate board members. It is a fairly simple message – trust has to be your most important value; even higher than profitability.
As a leadership value, Benioff’s point is well taken. But his message is just as important to company employees and stakeholders. Employee engagement studies consistently find that employees value two basic concepts in corporate culture – trust and integrity.
Culture is not a complex issue and should not be over-analyzed or made complex. Companies have to adopt a basic set of values – trust and integrity – and then communicate and act in accordance with those values.
CCOs and corporate leaders confuse the issue by adopting a complex set of values and by committing to messaging strategies without integrating the values into conduct. Words are cheap, and employees need to observe or hear of conduct that exemplifies the company’s value.
CEO’s often check off their responsibility for a company’s culture by recording a few videos, sending out corporate ethics and compliance newsletters. When the company’s culture fails to fall in line, CEOs are often at a loss as to why the messaging strategy did not succeed.
The corporate board, CEOs and senior executives have to commit to much more than messaging – they have to live and breathe the company’s culture, cite the importance of trust and integrity at meetings, and demonstrate commitment through conduct and keeping their word with employees and other stakeholders.
CEOs often ignore this important priority despite overwhelming research on the importance of corporate culture to a company’s bottom-line success. Researchers have estimated that corporate culture accounts for 20 to 40 percent of a company’s stock value.
Silicon Valley companies have been in the cross hairs of numerous scandals – and Benioff’s point was targeted to the Silicon Valley audience. Companies in the Palo Alto area do not have a stellar record of commitment to ethics and compliance. Indeed, they have been dragged before Congress to explain failures to respond to Russia’s attempts to influence our last election, and they have been at center of a number of discrimination and harassment scandals.
In the end, just as Benioff explains, a company that does not make trust its most important value is bound to suffer problems. Let’s hope that Silicon Valley and others hear Benioff’s message.