Culture: The Leadership "Mirror"



Updated 1/23/2020 4:42 PM

Last month, at the "Corporate Culture: Tales from the Front" breakfast, I was honored to participate in a panel discussion with fellow culture advocates Amy Bastuga, chief people officer at Radio Flyer; Jim Ludema, professor of Global Leadership and founder and director of the Center for Values-Driven Leadership at Benedictine University, and Tom Walter, co-founder and chief culture officer at Tasty Catering.

It was a lively conversation, because we didn't agree on every point or process regarding building a great culture. But we did agree about the importance of values in building a culture, and of the leadership team modeling those values.


I have always believed that leadership is responsible for the culture of an organization. In a good culture, values are clearly stated and enforced, the mission and vision are clearly understood, and information is shared openly and regularly.

Our organization operates according to a set of Fundamental Values. These values inform our mission and beliefs and serve as the bedrock for our business strategy. The executive team talks about the values at staff meetings, company newsletters, and other communications. We share them with both prospective employees and prospective clients. They grace the walls of our working and meeting spaces.

We obviously feel very strongly about our values. But, honestly, no matter what you say or how often you say it, values don't matter until they are tested. Would you turn down lucrative work with a person or company whose values didn't mirror yours? Would you recognize and reward an employee who sold a million-dollar contract based on fabrications? The easier choice is not always the right one.

Recently, IPM was faced with a situation in which one of our clients knowingly chose to violate the recruiting restraint agreement that is part of our standard contract. In this situation, the former employee was also in violation of their noncompete agreement. After many conversations with both the client and former employee, they each agreed to financial settlements. But we didn't want the money. We made it clear to both parties that all proceeds from the settlements would be donated to charitable organizations.

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This has been our position in the past and will continue to be our position in the future. It is not our intent to profit off this type of situation, as I consider it "dirty money." Additionally, we do not want to convey to anyone that our values are for sale. A breach of promise remains a breach of promise, regardless of any negotiated settlement. By donating the money, we not only stand true to our values, but are able to achieve a good outcome from a bad situation.

Actions speak louder than words. Employees -- as well as clients, vendors, and other stakeholders -- are paying attention. It's our responsibility as leaders to make sure behavior is consistent at the top and permeates the organization. And it's a task that's never done.

•C. Richard Panico is founder, president and CEO of Integrated Project Management Company in Burr Ridge.

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