Today’s post is the featured article from the March 2012 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

john-newIt was one of the most successful advertising campaigns ever … and it was about toilet paper! Mr. George Whipple became one of the most recognizable faces in America as this campaign ran on TV and in-print from 1964 to 1985 for Procter & Gamble’s Charmin Tissue. It was a great play on reverse psychology forbidding you to squeeze the irresistibly soft Charmin toilet tissue. In the end (so to speak) it did a great job of selling softness.

It worked well because, in selling the softness, it was selling the truth. Charmin was in fact squeeze-ably soft. And we have bought it. Unfortunately, over the last 60 years we have also seemed to have bought-in to the idea that core values are squeeze-ably soft. You know … soft touchy-feely Human Resource kind of stuff. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Establishing and upholding core values is the first and most important business strategy of a leader. Both personally and organizationally.

As an organization becomes bigger and more complex it becomes more important … not less. It is not soft. And it is not easy. It takes meaningful cognitive and emotional soul-searching to not only establish the non-negotiable, but to also establish the foundation that propels behavior, performance, internal and external relationships , creativity, purpose, fulfillment and all else that drives a healthy culture.

Unfortunately, many organizations have solely become economic engines. And within them there is little room for soul. It doesn’t happen overnight … and not necessarily on purpose. Over the last 60 years, developments in technology have propelled the ability to measure performance and results that drive the economic engine. Typically, there has not been a paralleled emphasis on the measurement of core values. This, in itself, is a set-up for a trajectory that initially leads to life simply becoming a transaction and ultimately to self-destruction.

I won’t argue that core values are the soft stuff. But who decided that soft wasn’t critically and strategically important?

Soft sure seemed important when it came to something as critically and strategically important as toilet paper!

I also won’t argue that core values are one of those Human Resource things. Every single Human Resource professional should seriously question their own value-add if they are not on a mission to drive and support every leader in establishing and upholding an intentional set of core values. It is precisely a Human Resource issue.

Any leader who isn’t hiring and demanding their Human Resource professionals to push them on the issue of core values is naïve at best and reckless at worst. Soft isn’t the issue. Pushing hard on the soft stuff is.

Leaders and Human Resource professionals, alike, may both be rightfully asking the question … so when would there ever be time to seriously work on all of that? Ironically, most leaders and Human Resource professionals could eliminate a third of what they do if they became dead serious about establishing business cultures where core values were personally and organizationally demanded.

Last, but certainly not least, are the shareholders. Ideally, they should be the drivers, demanding leaders to lead on a foundation of well-established core values. In a fast-moving capital market and in a world of mutual funds, this is a much harder group to isolate as individuals. And yes, there-in sits part of the problem … and ultimately a potential solution. The solution, initially, may have to be modeled in organizations where there are isolated and limited numbers of stockholders, individual owners or partnerships.

Core values are the soft stuff. They have to be squeeze-ably soft so they can be fully embraced.

It is refreshing to see how a few courageous organizational leaders and Human Resources professionals, who choose to truly lead, have embraced the concept of building real value with core values. Mr Whipple ultimately couldn’t resist and nor can these incredible leaders.

For all the rest … I am sure Procter & Gamble would be more than glad to sell you plenty of rolls of Charmin to clean-up the eventual mess.