Corporate Character in a Storm

April 25, 2012, Gary Sheffer

This week I am in Detroit where we have been joined by the 99% Spring for the GE shareowner meeting. This coalition is telling Americans that GE pays no taxes and that we are a reason why some people don’t have jobs or healthcare or economic equality with their fellow citizens. In Massachusetts, a new ad from a U.S. Senate candidate says that GE pays “zero” taxes and therefore more young people are forced to go into debt for education.

These arguments are factually faulty but, nonetheless, resonate with some who feel that the current economic system is unfair. We do everything we can to tell our story, build common ground and engage critics directly. But, let’s face it, it’s frustrating that facts sometimes matter less than volume these days.

So what then does a CCO do in a time of high reputation risk, low trust and little tolerance for nuance (besides occasionally having a good cry)? A good place to start is taking a look at Page’s New Model, particularly the part about defining, understanding and activating your “corporate character” – the unique purpose, beliefs, mission and values that are at the center of the model and your culture. At GE, we have used the external environment to discuss who we are and to connect our people to a broader mission. Ironically, I think, the volatile environment has strengthened our culture as GE people have coalesced around our challenges, re-examined our values and clarified our purpose.

Our job in communications has been to help drive this conversation and to take the culture beyond the firewall to help build a stronger belief in our company. The Page model has been a good compass throughout this process and a reminder that, while hand-to-hand fighting on things like taxes is important, we must deliver higher value to our organizations.

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By Gary Sheffer
VP, Communications and Public Affairs
General Electric Company

1 Comment

That's an insightful post, Gary.  Influencing the culture is a major result of leadership communication.  I like the way your (GE's) 2011 anual report leads off in its letter to shareowners--that culture is the foundation for any successful enterprise.  And your insistence that GE is a "we" company and not a "me" company.  Best piece we've seen yet on how this works, especially when innovation is built into the culture. 
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