Character Is What You Do, Not What You Say

August 24, 2015, Roger Bolton

From a crisis response standpoint, Amazon gets good marks for its quick reaction to the New York Times workplace culture story last week. CEO Jeff Bezos responded immediately with a well-constructed message to employees, and CCO Jay Carney went on CBS Morning News. Their response boiled down to this: They don't recognize the company the NYT described and wouldn't want to work at such a company. No apology; just, that's not who we are.

I'm sure Jeff and Jay were being sincere, and I hope they're right. I'm not in a position to say. But I will say this: corporate character matters. How employees are treated matters. How work gets done in your enterprise matters.

As the Page Model of Enterprise Communication posits, it's imperative that enterprises intentionally define their mission, purpose, values, culture, business model, strategy and brand – and that those definitions truly, truly play out in the actual behaviors of every employee, associate, partner and colleague in every action every single day. It's the only way to build an enterprise that authentically is deserving of trust.

Of course, even the best enterprises with the most focus on defining and activating corporate character will fall short. Mistakes will be made. Some people just won't get on board. It's how the enterprise responds to those mistakes and outliers that determines whether the defined character becomes the true character.

Are actions inconsistent with the values tolerated, or are they dealt with swiftly and directly? If the former, the entire character of the organization is at risk. Before you know it, you're Enron, with great values up on the wall and a culture completely at odds with the stated values.

Character is what you do, not what you say, and the true character will shine through.

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