Why every company needs a code

Successful strategy requires establishing a code—and living by it.  

“You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything”

Aaron Tippin

Geoff Wilson

You’re reading this because you like strategy, business, and leadership—or because somehow my not-so-vast marketing efforts fooled you into clicking something that you ultimately will or won’t like. Either way, I owe you a dose of content that is on topic. This one revolves around a simple question that very few companies think through in depth: What is our code?

By code, I mean a system of governance and a definition of what honorable behavior really is. Operating by a code cuts through the crap. It simplifies and distills to essence that which is too easy to complicate.

In building strategic plans, distilling the code is key. It generates the answers to who we are and who we hope to be. It’s necessary. “Market leadership through ethical cost leadership” is a code one can operate by. It establishes the ends, means, and methods.

Do you have a code?

For companies, codes are important for alignment and action. Companies that are unable to articulate codes, or that formulate codes that are at wild odds with personal codes, will struggle to succeed. How do I know? I’ve been in plenty of companies with codes that go something like this: “Grow revenue and grow earnings.” That’s it.

You might call this the “coin-operated code” because, just like a vending machine, you aren’t getting anything unless you put coins in. In reality, a code focused only on outcomes or money is no code at all. Executives who operate with no codes, or corrupt ones, get found out soon enough. A company that operates via a coin-operated code forgets its customers and invites attacks.

So, what’s a more holistic code? How do you know when you have one? I defined it a few paragraphs earlier: A complete code establishes the ends, means, and methods. And it does so in very simple terms.

A code I’ve worked to share in our organization, and that I believe strongly underpins the promise of WGP’s consulting practice, revolves around three things: We listen. We bring something new. We do real work. 

That’s it. That’s the “code of honor” I bandy about to our team, and one that I believe sets the stage for ultimate value.

We listen because we can’t be effective partners to our clients without understanding before being understood. We bring something new because without fresh insights, we are just a temp agency on steroids. We do real work because that’s how fact-based strategy is established (and because the world doesn’t need any more pontificating armchair consultants).

So, what’s your code?

As an aside: All of this is all secondary to and perhaps separate from personal values. Yet your corporate code has to align with personal values of the highest and best among you, or you’ll get the personal values of the lowest and least. And that’s the recipe for a code red.

I’ll just leave that for you to ponder.

What do you think? 

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