August 19, 2020

Values In Action


For the last few weeks I have been absorbed with writing, editing and finalising the second draft of my next book. The topic is brand storytelling and I have a deadline to deliver the completed manuscript to my publisher Wiley in three weeks’ time.

Conflicting Values

One of the aspects I am exploring is how many companies have stated values that on the surface could seem to be in contradiction to each other. For example, a company might have a value around ‘winning’ and another about, ‘fairness and integrity’.

Imagine if you espoused these values and you were competing in a cross-country foot race. With only about ten metres to go you are in second place when the runner in front of you mistakenly thinks he has crossed the finish line and stops. Do you easily run past him to claim victory, thus seizing on the mistake of your competitor? Or do you point out his error and allow him to cross the finish line ahead of you? Which of your values takes precedence, winning or fairness and integrity?

Putting Values to the Test

Well, that is exactly what happened in December 2012 to Spanish long-distance runner Ivan Fernandez Anaya. Approaching the finish line, Ivan was in second place behind his rival, Kenyan runner Abel Mutai. With only about 10 metres to run, Abel was confused by the signage and believed he had crossed the finish line, so he stopped running. Ivan was behind him and realised what was happening. But instead of running past him to claim victory, he told him to keep running. Unfortunately, Abel didn’t understand Spanish and didn’t respond. So Ivan prodded the Kenyan across the finish line in front of him to victory.

After the race a journalist asked Ivan why he let him win. Ivan replied, “I didn’t let him win, he was going to win …He was the rightful winner … He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed if he hadn’t made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn’t going to pass him.”

The journalist insisted again, “But you could have won!” Ivan looked at him and replied, “But what would be the merit of my victory? What would be the honour of that medal? What would my Mom think of that?” Apparently the only person who wasn’t impressed was Ivan’s coach.

Commitment in Times of Uncertainty

We only truly know our real values when they are put to the test. For example, the store that sells umbrellas for half price when it rains.

It is pleasing to see so many companies doing the right thing in this time of uncertainty. For example, the financial institutions who back in March delayed mortgage repayments for six months. Organisations that put job redundancies on hold for six months. Telstra was one such company who announced this in March. This week they have advised that they will extend this until at least February. It is good for their employees and good for their brand because they are living their value ‘show we care’.

Let’s hope that the right values continue to win out as we work through these very tough times.