I’ve been reading The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business by Patrick Lencioni. I think of it as the follow-up book to Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins. In Built to Last, Jim Collins delves into the myths about what makes visionary companies different from successful-but-second companies, separating fact from fiction. One major factor was strong aherence to core values and principles.

The Advantage provides more detail about how to instill core values within a company, do’s and don’ts, and a roadmap. (Some of it seems really simplistic. And it is. Like diet and exercise are simple ways to lose weight.)

I might write more about the book in another post, but I’m writing this post because of a specific example I read in The Advantage. Jim Collins expounded about the process of determining core values. One of the questions used to help identify core values was: What would you do even if you were punished for doing it? In The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni shares the story below. When I imagine the brouhaha which could result from the following scenario, it’s easy to see that this company is very much aligned with one of its core values.

We worked with an airline that is fanatical about its culture. It had three core values, one of which had to do with humor.


What testifies to the fact that this is a true core value is that the company refuses to hire people in any job, at any level, who don’t have a sense of humor about themselves as well as life. Its leaders even go so far as to encourage and defend the humorous behaviors of their employees on the rare occasion when a customer doesn’t appreciate it.


A great example of this occurred when a frequent flyer wrote to the company’s CEO complaining that a flight attendant was making jokes during the preflight safety check. She was upset that the employee was trying to be funny while he was talking about something as serious and important as safety.


Now, most CEOs would respond to that complaint by thanking the customer for her time and her loyalty to the airline and assuring her that safety was, indeed, important to the organization. They would then promise to look into the matter to make sure that the flight attendant adjusts hiss behavior to avoid offending any other passengers who could be uncomfortable with the jokes. That would be responsible enough, I supposed, unless your core values have to do with humor.


Well, the CEO of this company took a different approach. Rather than apologizing to the customer and asking the flight attendant to moderate his behavior, he wrote her a short note with three words on it. “We’ll miss you.” There can be little doubt that the company believed that humor was a core value.


(Rest assured that this company, like all good airlines, takes safety very, very seriously.)

… Very, very seriously, without sacrificing a core value.

22. December 2013 by sojourner hardeman
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