The Week in Ethics: IBM Global CEO Study, Values Empower Employees

Interviewing 1709 CEOs from 64 countries and 18 industries, (from September 2011 to January 2012) IBM identified that the top organizational attribute to draw out the best from their workforces was ethics and values (65%),  followed by collaborative environment (63%), and purpose and mission (58%); these findings are part of IBM’s 2012 study Leading Through Connections.

IBM set out to find out how CEOs are “responding to the complexity of increasing interconnected organizations, markets, societies and governments,” what they call “the connected economy.” The highly connected era, changing how people engage, puts new demands on leaders.

The study findings indicate that CEOs intend to differentiate their organizations through “new and deeper connections,” driving outperformance through:

  • Empowering employees through values
  • Engaging customers as individuals
  • Amplifying innovation with partnerships

Focusing here on values — in this highly connected world environment, openness, transparency and collaboration become extremely important. Each has implications for corporate culture.

Openness brings with it vulnerability and risk. To be effective, the study points out: “As rigid controls loosen, organizations need a strong sense of purpose and shared beliefs to guide decision making. Teams will need processes and tools that inspire collaboration on a massive scale….Organizations must help employees develop traits to excel in this new type of environment.”

Growth-market CEOs are 79 percent more likely to make significant changes to their organizational values over the next three to five years than are CEOs of mature market companies, the study found.

According to IBM’s study, “…to develop a shared belief system, employees must help create it.” Rather than becoming more rule based, the study suggests “seek to eliminate those (rules) that can be ‘controlled’ through values.”

The CEOs surveyed told IBM that three leadership traits most critical to steer their organizations effectively are: inspirational leadership, customer obsession and leadership teaming across the C-suite.

Thinking about the IBM study, these CEOs appear to have found a possible remedy to help business regain what has been lost in public confidence in the last several years. Empowering employees through values means they and the organization are driven by a purpose that defines shareholder value in broader terms than profit.

How employees will be led to internalize company values and purpose will require a lead-by-example tone at the top, an inspirational leader who engages and empowers. In my experience, the most evident examples of consistently inspirational leaders have been at common purpose companies, companies practicing  conscious capitalism and those committed to investing in shared-purpose cultures.

If companies plan to differentiate themselves through ethics and values, they will transform business and the world.

There is a lot of work to do. It will be worth every effort.

Gael O’Brien       May 31, 2012

The Week in Ethics

Gael O’Brien is also a columnist for Business Ethics Magazine. Her May 31, 2012 column is Women Advancing to the C-Suite: Why so Difficult?


5 thoughts on “The Week in Ethics: IBM Global CEO Study, Values Empower Employees

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