Some companies are getting it right.
Recently, I was hired by Penn Mutual, one of the oldest values-driven companies in America. At this event, under the direction of Chairman, President & CEO Eileen McDonnell, Penn Mutual’s leadership team introduced the firm’s guiding principles with a straightforward message: Penn Mutual is committed to maintaining a culture which produces a legacy based on respect, trust, and doing the right thing.
The leaders talked with the management team about the firm’s noble purpose, and its deep rooted commitment to clients and employees. The message emphasized the firm’s unique culture, one shaped by values, that guide their professional and personal conduct, how they do business, interact with employees and one another and how they represent their company in the world.
It’s no accident that this insurance giant has a 165 year success track record maintaining some of the strongest ratings in the life insurance world.
They walk their talk and live their values.
Penn Mutual hired me to speak to their management team about my story and offer examples of what to do and not do to build a culture of trust and integrity. As I thought and then spoke of the fraud and financial misconduct I had discovered during my work at Citigroup, it was even more clear that the backbone of a corporate culture was in how guiding principles truly followed and instilled in a corporate culture could prevent fraud and the blatant misconduct I had uncovered. As you may know, I eventually blew the whistle on Citigroup’s unethical activities.
Penn Mutual’s guiding principles led with “Acting With Integrity, we have the conscious intention to do the right thing.” They stated, “each of us has personal responsibility to conduct our business honestly, ethically and with respect.”
The full guiding principles are outlined below:
Acting With Integrity
We have the conscious intention to do the right thing.
Respecting One Another
We see each other’s distinctiveness as a valued asset.
Focusing on Relationships
We foster meaningful connections with others.
Sustaining Our Legacy
We are trusted guardians for what we promise.
A Shared Sense of Belonging
We evoke our place as part of a larger world that we influence and that influences us.
It is no coincidence that doing the right thing is at the core of Penn Mutual’s culture, the cornerstone on which they conduct each of their interactions.
It’s no secret that the financial performance of those companies who follow guiding principles and engage their employees show a net income eighteen times higher than their competitors, and stock price growth nearly three times higher than their counterparts who are not engaged in guiding principles as a cornerstone of their companies.
For years, thought leaders have pointed this out in writings and teachings. In James Kouzes and Barry Posner’s seminal work, The Leadership Challenge, the authors conducted extensive research in how to make extraordinary things happen in organizations.
Started in 1987, one of their surveys stated that of the 20 characteristics most admired in a leader, four of these have consistently received more than 60 % of the votes. The top characteristic selected, Honest, is up 6% in the last 25 years. These surveys represent respondents from six continents, with the majority of the respondents in the U.S.
Successful companies have the capacity to stop whistleblowing before it begins by encouraging that the right things be done, as Penn Mutual is doing. Not all of the Department of Justice’ incentives to smoke out whistleblowers can light a fire where unethical behavior is discouraged and eliminated from ever taking root to begin with.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that having a 150 page, Enron-style ethics code is a waste of paper and time if it is not followed. Ethics, integrity, right conduct, respect for the individual – both customer and employee – are the cornerstones of what builds success.
I find Penn Mutual’s guiding principles to be very inspiring.
A culture of honesty and ethical behavior actually takes less work and makes more profit in the long run. To my mind, it is the only way to do business.