Davos 2014: Lessons in values from the summit

James Bickford

The World Economic Forum is an independent international organisation committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

As the world’s great and good gathered in Davos this week for the WEF's annual meeting, Oxfam released the alarming statistic that 85 of the richest people on the planet were as wealthy as poorest half of the world.

Then - who would have imagined - Pope Francis delivered such a powerful message to the global Davos elite that he single-handedly hijacked the event’s headlines. His mission was to speak out against economic injustice, saying, “I ask you to ensure humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it.”

Now world leaders are knocking on the Pope’s door to be seen talking to the man for the poor. US President Barack Obama will visit the Vatican on March 27. According to a White House statement, it's "their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality" that will lead the agenda.

So early into this New Year you get the sense that the stone of inequality has finally been thrown into the water and the ripple effect may have begun.

Human values
Following the news from Davos, I began to wonder whether some basic human values had drifted up the mountain, into the corridors of the forum and settled among the discussions being held there.

Whether those values remain atop of the mountain long after everyone departs only time will tell. However, whether we were at Davos or not, what has happened there over the past few days has highlighted the question of, and need for, values.

When we look at the businesses we work for, most of us, at some time or another, would have reflected on and agreed to a set of business values that would be delivered both internally and externally.

The big question is, are those values truly understood, lived by and delivered to by the business every day? Or are they just a list sitting somewhere in the past that were good to have but to hard to deliver?

When we look at the world of brands today and the requirement by employees and customers for brands to have and deliver on their values we must ask ourselves whether we are genuinely focused on them or whether they are just a forgotten list we pay lip service to.

Values must begin within an organisation and be continued to be led consistently from the C-Suite. However, for many businesses if you asked an employee, at the water cooler, what the values of their business were they would probably look rather blank.

They would have been in the induction book somewhere or for the customer on a web page but are not actually being lived and experienced.

This year let’s take the lead from the extraordinary happenings at Davos and re-engage with the values of our businesses. Dust them off and re-invigorate them across our business and brand strategies, bring them to life amongst our employees and be proud to share them with our customers and partners, in good times and bad.

Having done so, and using your values as a core lens on your business, you may find some weaknesses that need to be addressed, some gaps to close, some strengths to build on and opportunities that were not in your line of sight previously.

Your business values can help you serve your customers better and engage with your employees more. All of which will deliver on building future brand and business value.

And, you never know, having breathed life back into the values of your business, you may well find a new path on your corporate citizenship and social responsibility pathway. 

In doing so you can be confident in your decision knowing that it is top of mind with the best global brands and is certainly on the agenda at Davos and beyond.

James Bickford is managing director of Interbrand NZ

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