In recent months, we have witnessed disappointing, even fraudulent, actions by major entities in several core American industries. At issue were transgressions that included misrepresentation of product performance to consumers and deception in product testing with regulators. Serious stuff.

In each case, there seemed to be a painful disconnect between what these companies stood for—as conveyed through years of advertising, marketing and public relations—and what employees thought that their leaders were expecting them to do in the performance of their duties. All in the feverish quest for results.

What happened to corporate values? What about all those charitable contributions, scholarships and similar good deeds of corporate citizenship? How did these sophisticated, seemingly good, companies get so off-track? What happened to checks and balances?

Following is an extremely sophisticated and academic study on the value of corporate culture: http://economics.mit.edu/files/9721  In it, the authors study which dimensions of corporate culture are related to a firm’s performance and why. Interestingly, they find that proclaimed values appear irrelevant. Yet, when employees perceive top managers as trustworthy and ethical a firm’s performance is stronger.

“We find very little evidence that advertised values are correlated with performance. Since the cost of claiming on the Web values such as integrity or care of the environment is close to zero, most firms will do it, regardless of the actual set of values present in the organization.”

I remember early in my own career rushing into an important meeting with a major supplier in the auto industry. As I walked into the lobby, there was the CEO, seemingly in no hurry, talking with the receptionist. He knew her by name, just as he did nearly everyone else in the building, and took the time to talk to her in a meaningful way. And throughout my time in working with that company, I was able to observe how that leader’s demeanor and genuineness seemed to carry through in the relationships between employees in the company and the way they interacted with customers and vendors. I learned that what a company stands for—and how it performs—starts with the messages given out by leadership—the explicit ones and the implicit ones.

Brand identity is more than a slogan, a memorable logo or some memorized talking points. It is about what a company believes in, and the systems and programs in place that ensure that relationships within and without an organization, as well as its final product or service, reflects those core values

That is the heavy lifting that must come before any PR campaign. When companies get the first part right, the rest is easy.  -Mike Szudarek