Accountability – how to make it real, part 2

In my last blog, I discussed “choosing the right values.”I discussed the elements of your business that form the foundation for adopting values that will best serve you. In other words, what values can withstand the constant pressures to temporarily abandon those values (a lapse), or completely ignore them (they were never really your values in the first place)?  

How you choose your values deserves a deeper dive. There are challenges to the connection between your values, your culture and your strategies. 

Here’s an example of how NOT to do it. Wells Fargo Bank is the current poster child for elevating bad behavior to an art form.   

Here is a summary of Wells Fargo’s applicable statedvalues:

  • What’s right for customers.Customers are at the center of everything we do. We want to exceed customer expectations and build lifetime relationship.
  • People as a competitive advantage.Attract, develop, motivate and retain the best – and collaborate across businesses and functions – to serve customers.
  • Ethics.We’re committed to the highest standards of integrity, transparency and principled performance. We do the right thing and hold ourselves accountable.
  • Leadership.We want everyone to lead themselves, the team and the business – in service to customers, communities, team members, and shareholders.

Then, under the guise of an aggressive cross-selling strategy, they proceeded to open approximately 2 million unauthorized customer deposit and credit card accounts – for which those customers were billed monthly. They began around 2011 and continued until it was discovered in 2016. 

Five thousand employees were fired, 2 successive CEOs and a senior Vice President were ousted (the vice president took early retirement). The ultimate cost to the bank will exceed $2 billion. They are currently operating under a congressional order that prevents them from expanding until they clean up their act. There’s more, but you get the idea.

All of the above begs many questions. Here are a few: Given their stated values, what made it possible for so many people to do the things they did – with no accountability – for so long? How did they set unachievable goals to execute their cross-selling strategies, with full knowledge that they could not possibly achieve those goals with the experience and skill levels of their line employees? Why would they develop strategies that flagrantly contradicted the culture they said they wanted?     

And finally, what could they have done differently to pursue an ambitious strategy of cross-selling without brazenly abandoning their values?

As an outside observer, one obvious conclusion is this. Their stated values were not their real values. They were marketing slogans, designed to create a false impression of who they really were. The slogan produced enough trust (protective cover) to allow them to be their authentic selves, one that valued only profits, growth and shareholder value – attained by any means necessary.The Wells Fargo experience has valuable lessons for all of us. It shines a light on how difficult it can be to choose the right values (one’s you can live under all conditions). It also sets the stage for how to go about doing that – and that is something I will explore in our next blog post.  


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