Do you work for an ‘evil’ company?

Google executives Jonathan Rosenberg and Eric Schmidt seem convinced of their company’s benevolence, indeed one of their “10 things we know to be true” is “you can make money without doing evil”. Sure you can, if you siphon all your tax into an offshore account.

Brushing that minor contradiction aside, Rosenberg and Schmidt go to great lengths in their book ‘How Google Works’ to explain that “do no evil” is part of Google’s culture. They tell delightful anecdotes of their employees passionately defending this value. What this means is Googlers can be proud to work there, there is no stigma attached to being a software engineer for a company that “does no evil”. In Glassdoor’s Employees’ Choice Awards 2015, guess who’s number 1. Leaders at Google expect a lot from their people; there is no work-life balance because at Google, work is your life, and you love it. In corporate speak, this is the ultimate “engaged” workforce.

"We're all engaged, whoo hoo!"
“We’re all engaged, whoo hoo!”

The values of a company are everything, and values come from the top. Google’s Larry Page practices what he preaches, Apple’s Steve Jobs believed in putting the user first, challenging the status quo and in beautiful design. “Companies are the extended shadow of their CEO”, contend Rosenberg and Schmidt, but values are worth nothing if the people at the top don’t follow them consistently and authentically – they must believe. Part of the challenge for businesses which have been around for more than a generation is that the founding men and women usually aren’t around to keep the company honest to its roots.

Larry Merlo CVS Health’s President and CEO recently announced that CVS Health would no longer be stocking tobacco products in their 7,700 drug stores. The tobacco revenue stream for CVS Health was worth $2 billon. Surely that’s business suicide?

Business suicide - it's a waiting game.
Business suicide – it’s a waiting game.

“Sometimes, we all need to dust off our values and ask ourselves if we’re truly living in concert with them. Put simply, the sale of tobacco products was inconsistent with our purpose”.

The result? By reconnecting with the company’s purpose, “helping people on their path to better health”, CVS Health has generated better than expected sales from new business across all lines. Though the loss of tobacco sales hurt sales in the front of its stores, Larry Merlo said in reporting the company’s third quarter results (2014) that revenue increased nearly 10 percent in the period to $35 billion, which was ahead of analysts’ expectations by more than $250 million.

In ‘Reinventing Organisations‘, Federic La Loux contends that companies exist to serve humanity, and I agree. There isn’t a company on the planet that wasn’t originally designed to fulfil a need. Companies become ‘evil’ when they forget their purpose, as Simon Sinek would say their, “why”. Why were oil companies founded for example? It wasn’t written, “we will play a key role in global warming by extracting and selling fossil fuels”. Oil companies offered the world a chance to advance with developments in plastics, planes, trains and automobiles to name a few benefits. But now it is universally accepted that burning fossil fuels is harmful to the planet and to people, they are now ‘evil’. Its people aren’t ‘evil’, the company is ‘evil’. Indeed, many of the most charitable and generous souls I’ve met have worked at ‘evil’ companies.

A collective group of people united by a leader with a strong sense of purpose and belief, can rest easy. Once fossil fuels were revealed as damaging for example, a company like this could adapt quickly and find new ways of delivering on its core principles – which are always Good. And the evidence is clear, doing Good is good business. Until CEO’s grasp this and connect with “why” they are doing what they do, large multinational companies to small independent ones, will be ‘evil’, and continue doing ‘evil’, whether the people that work for them are ‘evil’ or not.

"Follow me! I know where we're going".
“Follow me! I know where we’re going”.

But what can you do? Fortunately there are a few options, the hardest of which is to try and change an ‘evil’ company’s culture. There are many factors involved in a successful transformation, but direction and role-modelling from a CEO who believes in the company’s purpose is the most important.

Is your company Good or ‘evil’?

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