I was recently reminded of the power of meaningful organizational values when I watched Leo Burnett’s farewell speech, “When To Take My Name Off the Door.” In his own style, he talked about making outstanding advertising, which is the core value of Leo Burnett.
He says: “Somewhere along the line, after I’m finally off the premises, you – or your successors – may want to take my name off the premises, too. That will certainly be OK with me. But let me tell you when I might demand that you take my name off the door. That will be the day:
- When you spend more time trying to make money and less time making advertising – our kind of advertising
- When you forget the sheer fun of ad making and the lift you get out of it
- When you lose that restless feeling that nothing you do is ever quite good enough
- When you lose your passion for thoroughness…your hatred of loose ends
- When you are no longer what Thoreau called “a corporation with a conscience”
- When you disprove of something, and start tearing the hell out of the man who did it rather than the work itself
- When you stop building on strong and vital ideas and start a routine production line
- When you start believing that, in the interest of efficiency, a creative spirit and the urge to create can be delegated and administrated, and forget that they can only be nurtured, stimulated, and inspired
- When you start giving lip service to this being a “creative agency” and stop really being one
THAT, boys and girls, is when I shall insist you take my name off the door. And by golly, it will be taken off the door. Even if have to materialize long enough some night to rub it out myself – on every one of our floors. And before I de-materialize again, I will paint out that star-reaching symbol too. And burn all the stationery. Perhaps tear up a few ads in passing.”
The Leo Burnett core value doesn’t sound like much until it is elaborated with a multidimensional perspective, buttressed with the numerous anecdotes reflecting the style and standards of the founder, and brought to live with legendary campaign role models (such as “Maytag: The Dependability People,” United’s “Fly the Friendly Skies,” Allstate’s “Good Hands,” the Marlboro man, the Jolly Green Giant, the Keebler Elves, and countless others).
Organizational values are almost always central to the long-term success of a business. They underlie any successful business strategy, they are the basis for a market-facing brand vision that differentiates and provides credibility, and they contribute to an internal brand that inspires and clarifies. Among those values should be a few signature values supported by substance and by stories that are central to the business. When they fade, the business may no longer reflect the brand. And as a result, its equity and legacy may become damaged.
So if the Haas School loses its “confidence without arrogance,” if being “weird” is no longer comfortable at Zappos.com, if Patagonia stopped using its business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crises, if Apple stops creating leadership products that extend human capability, if IBM stops focusing on being dedicated to every client’s success, or if Prophet was no longer about liberating ideas, inspiring people and driving impact, then in each case, the soul of its organization and the essence of its brand will have been compromised.
The start of a new year is a good time to reflect on values. What are your business and brand values? Which are the signature values that represent the core of the organization and brand? Which values support the heritage brand? Do the employees and partners know and care about the values? If answers to these questions don’t come easily, it may be time to invest in their creation and articulation.