Communicating values in the workplace - Activate World

Communicating values in the workplace


This past month we’ve seen CEOs and business leaders resign or lose their jobs over statements said that don’t align with company cultures and values. Papa John’s founder was asked to resign as chairman and Disney’s James Gunn was fired for old tweets. We’ve also seen the reverse occur when McKinsey and ICE terminated their business relationship after employees reacted negatively to the partnership with a controversial government agency.

This underscores the importance of aligning values between employers and employees. From the employee perspective, what’s considered a meaningful job varies from person to person, depending on what each of us values most. From the employer perspective, companies need to effectively communicate their values in a meaningful way to provide a moral compass for their employees to follow – and let the world know what they stand for.

James Gunn was held accountable for offensive tweets about rape and pedophilia from 2008 and 2009, before he was directing the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise from which he was fired. Disney and Marvel stated they made this decision because Gunn does not reflect their moral values, even though he claims to have changed over the past 10 years.

Papa John’s founder, CEO John Schnatter’s, image was removed from marketing materials and he was evicted from office space at the corporate headquarters. He was also asked to stop speaking publicly about the business when it was revealed he used the N-word on a conference call. The company and employees refuse to stand behind a leader they believe to have racist qualities.

McKinsey & Company, the prestigious management consultancy, recently ended their contract with ICE, the federal agency overseeing detention centers across the country, due to vocal employee disapproval. Even though the company stated their work for the agency did not involve the operations implementing the controversial immigration policy. The firm’s new managing partner, Kevin Sneader said that since ICE is at odds with McKinsey & Company values there will be no business interaction between the two organizations anywhere in the world.


  • Every company has human resource policies reflecting their standards of acceptable behavior and consequences for violation. Marvel and Disney simply state they have a “no tolerance” policy. Rian Johnson, director of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” deleted 20,000 old tweets after Gunn was fired. He said he didn’t believe any of his deleted tweets were reasons to be fired but didn’t want to leave potential ammunition for trolls.
  • Fully removing Schnatter will be difficult, as he and his associates own 30% of the company’s stock, and he remains on the board. Schnatter claims he was removed from his office position under false pretense and wants his position back. He is now suing his own former company.
  • Other companies have also advised ICE, such as Deloitte Consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Booz Allen Hamilton. When the companies were questioned on their involvement in the controversial policy separating children from parents only Booz Allen responded, saying their interaction with ICE involved information systems, analytics and data integration.

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • If a company clearly communicates its values internally and an employee chooses to repeatedly transgress these values, should they be fired, regardless of how much revenue they generate?
  • Can and should a company fire an employee over their controversial views expressed publicly?
  • People are increasingly aware of CEO activism and more than a third view it favorably. What are the top issues people want CEOs to address?


Sources: CNN, Variety, CNN, LinkedIn, Hollywood Reporter, Quartz
Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash