Regarding corporate culture, there is a famous quote in Time Magazine from Warren Buffet that goes: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Never has that quote been more appropriate than in an age where social media can have a huge impact on an employer’s reputation. Do something your employees think isn’t on the up and up, and it’s guaranteed to be tweeted, posted and emailed within seconds.
So when I read about Tom Selleck stealing water in the midst of California’s worst drought, I thought of Buffett’s words. Magnum PI never appealed to me, so I was never a Selleck fan until I watched him in the recently made-for-TV movies Jesse Stone, based on Robert B. Parker novels. He plays an extremely likable and honest police chief in a small town in Massachusetts and I really loved that show – until now.
Here he is, portraying a model of virtue on television when in real life, he turns out to be a thief. And not only a common thief, but one of the “Leona Helmsley, only the little people pay taxes,” kind of thief. He’s a rich actor with a multi-million dollar ranch and that some how entitles him to have what the little people cannot – water. How disappointing.
What’s the corporate culture lesson?
So you may be saying to yourself, “Yeah, that’s interesting Larry, and I agree with you, but what does that have to do with our corporate culture?” And I say everything. It’s my personal philosophy that when you become someone’s boss, you become a famous person. Employees watch you for cues on how they should behave. In my management seminars, I like to joke that even their kids talk about you at school. And everything you do or say has meaning for them. We all want our employees to do the right thing in dealing with their co-workers and your customers, so it is our responsibility to demonstrate how they should behave in such circumstances.
This week, the spare refrigerator in our pantry went on the fritz and several pounds of recently purchased meat spoiled before we were aware of it. When Lucia, my disabled wife’s caretaker asked if she should return the meat to Costco for a refund, I was tempted to say yes. That meat cost a lot of money and Costco has a no-questions-asked return policy. Luckily, the Tom Selleck thing had just happened and it reminded me that it would not only be dishonest to return the meat, it would demonstrate to Lucia that I was no better than Tom Selleck. That’s a message I did not want to send.