How Far Will You Go to Uphold Your Company’s Values?

BY Kathy Crosett
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As a leader, it’s your job to maintain the work culture that you and others have carefully crafted. If you want your employees to be motivated and engaged, you have to take action when an employee grossly violates your company's values. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings found himself in that position recently.

The Incident

In a widely reported incident, Hastings fired a top executive for using a racial slur. This executive had been with the company for a long time and was a trusted adviser of Hastings’. Hastings explained his reasons for the firing in a letter to employees.

  • First, Hastings noted that the executive had used the slur on a previous occasion and had been warned not to say those words again.
  • Second, he told employees directly that he’d fired the employee. (The employee wasn’t given the change to resign quietly as could have happened in this case.)
  • Finally, Hastings promised his employees that he would do a better job of maintaining company values.

The Fallout

Chris Edmonds, an organizational culture expert, would probably applaud the action Hastings took. In his writing, Edmonds emphasizes the importance of employee engagement to a company’s success. How can we expect employees to work hard if they see leaders only paying lip service to official company values? When executives put down employees because of skin color or religion, that's a problem for any company.

Employees will decide they’re in a hostile work environment. And, they’ll start looking for a new job. It won’t take long for warnings about that hostile work environment to show up on social media. Before long, the company will have trouble hiring employees, especially in today’s competitive environment.

Expert Analysis

In his video for SmartBrief, Edmonds talks about maintaining a company culture in which “team members feel trusted and cared for on a daily basis.” The Netflix incident serves as a perfect example. Hastings took an action that likely came at a great personal cost. At the same time, his employees know he is personally committed to upholding the company’s values.

As the leader at your organization, have you defined the boundaries of behavior as part of your work culture? Are you prepared to take action when an employee, no matter how senior, crosses the line?