Company Values: Lessons from Enron and One Tel

Recently I was reading ‘Make your Values Mean Something’ which talks about organizational values, what they should be and what is needed to really embed them in your culture. It is a frank article as the author says “If you’re not willing to accept the pain real values incur, don’t bother going to the trouble of formulating a values statement”.

It starts out asking you to review the following corporate values.

Communication. Respect. Integrity. Excellence.

These sound pretty solid and quite similar to other values statements you may have read.

These were actually the values of Enron whom Fortune named “America’s Most Innovative Company for six consecutive years. Employing around 22, 000 people and claiming revenue of nearly $101 billion in 200, Enron filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and the “Enron Scandal” rocked the world with their creatively planned accounting fraud. In addition to being the largest bankruptcy reorganization in American history, Enron undoubtedly is the biggest audit failure. Not much integrity or excellence going on there.

It made me think about organizational values and whether most are formed by what execs feel should be what the company represents, rather than what it actually is. Are companies really living and breathing their values? Are the values really guiding every decision that is made?

Could you pass the Enron test?

More locally, anyone recognise ‘the Dude’ below?


This company used this scruffy surfer to demonstrate that anyone could get a mobile phone, even a lazy layabout. The offices were decked out in electric blue, sunflower yellow and lime green walls featuring ‘the dude’, with a different theme for every floor. The walls were also peppered with motivational messages from beliefs and values such as ‘Add and create value in everything you do’, ‘make it better’, ‘Give your opinions’ ‘A happy team means happy players’. These were the values of One Tel.

Despite these values about making it better and creating value, the corporate culture was rife with fraud in trying to artificially inflating customer numbers up in order to secure bonuses from places like Optus. The following is an excerpt from Paul Barry’s Book on the One Tel collapse.

One long-serving member of the One.Tel team swears that at the end of 1997 he was asked to do a special job: “One of Brad Keeling’s deputies explained that One.Tel was falling short of its Optus targets and that there was a $500,000 bonus to be earned if we hit it.” Keeling then found the young man 10,000 to 15,000 existing One.Tel customers and told him to mail each a new SIM card, complete with new mobile number.

The young team member hired an army of casuals to stick SIM cards on to slips of paper and put them into envelopes. For several days on end they worked until midnight. They did not bother to wait for people to ring in and say they wanted their new number. The casuals simply activated the SIM cards on the computer before sending them out, which automatically connected each one to the Optus network, thus counting them all as brand new connections (source Paul Barry).

I think most of you would agree that this is an extreme example of a company where the values are just for show, but there are hundreds more organisations out there that just stick the values up on a poster and expect employees to live by them. It just doesn’t work that way.

Some key tips:
• Leaders at the top MUST lead by example, living and breathing the values in EVERYTHING they do.
• Ensure your company actions reflect the values statements. Base rewards and recognition programs, recruitment and selection and talent management strategies on them, and stick to it even when tough decisions need to be made.
• Provide training on what the values mean, what behaviours demonstrate your values and what people should do if they see someone not living the values.

Does your company live and breathe by its values and are they truly embedded in the culture?


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