Just this morning, I was interviewed by David Wolf for his SmallBiz Brain Series to be aired on SBTV.com’s website (www.sbtv.com) in a few weeks. Our topic related to 8 key questions business owners should ask themselves about their unique Brand DNA and how imperative it is to answer them so as to not only survive but thrive in this troubled economy.
One of the questions we discussed was “What are the core values of your brand that guide your behaviors and business practices?” We talked about what values are—those ‘guiding principles’ that form the basis of what is important to you and give meaning to the intentions behind your brand and your business practices. We also talked about why living your core values is so important in today’s business environment.
Just before the interview, I thought about the issues that AIG is experiencing right now while under the scrutiny of the public and the government for paying out a $165 Million in bonus payments after a few months earlier receiving $182 Billion in bailout money. I was just curious to find out if they had a set of core values for the business. So, I got on their website and searched. I found a button on the menu of items for Vision and Values. As I clicked on it—I found the page showed it was temporarily down. No other page around this page on the website was down. I thought, “How odd.” I also said to myself that this couldn’t just be a coincidence.
I then proceeded to get on Google. I typed into the search section ‘AIG Values’ and found the link to the same webpage. When I clicked on it I got the same message about the webpage being down. So, I went back to Google’s link and lo and behold I found they had “cached” the page. When I clicked on it, there the page was with AIG’s values. The cached page was a snapshot of what the page looked like when it was last active and live—that date was March 13, 2009.
I checked the list of values on this webpage for AIG and found six of them, two of which I zeroed in on, ‘Performance’ and ‘Integrity’. They defined performance, “Be accountable. Manage risks. Deliver AIG’s strength.” They define integrity as, “Work honestly, Enhance AIG’s reputation.” It made me seriously question whether the company was truly accountable and enhancing AIG’s reputation.
Given the current situation, I think most people would say AIG has severely tarnished its image and most certainly negatively impacted their reputation with the payout of those bonuses given the current economic situation and the bailout money handed to them. In fact, not living their values goes far beyond just this one incident, but goes to the core of who they are as brand. As I dug deeper into their values statements, I found the terms to describe these two values as “superior performance, building and persevering the company’s financial strength…disciplined practices…to manage risk”. I found words like ‘integrity in action…integrity is the bedrock of AIG’s reputation..being honest, transparent, with acceptable business practices.” I was just floored when I read this.
The learning point here is that why haven’t they and other companies like them learned that if you don’t live your values, eventually it comes out and it can have devastating effects on your reputation as a brand. Consider the effects of Enron and Arthur Andersen a few years back. One of Enron’s values was integrity. They are no longer in business. That’s pretty devastating.
So, I ask you to ask yourself what are your brand’s core values? Are you living up to those values and consider your actions going-forward? All of us can learn from AIG’s situation. The price of misrepresenting your brand and what you stand for is just not worth it. It erodes your reputation and creates mistrust!