John Fahey: “Internal Values”

Here’s the latest (behind-the-firewall) blog offering from John Fahey, CEO of the National Geographic Society:

Internal Values

Published: February 24, 2010

I had time over those interminable, but fun, snow days to think about “Internal Values” at NGS.  Yes, yes, I promise that this space won’t always be devoted to values, culture, and communication.   There will be many, many things to talk about over time. That being said, I feel strongly that the message sent to management through the staff survey and Culture Group recommendations is critical to NGS. Defining and holding ourselves accountable to meaningful internal values is good for morale, good for business, and simply a requirement for our future success.

John Fahey

Internal Values are different than overall institutional values or principles.  Think of them as guidelines to help create a workplace that’s productive, positive, fun, exciting, goal-oriented, intellectually satisfying, rewarding, and ultimately fulfilling.  An environment which will help the organization accomplish its mission more fully.

Toward this end, I’ve given a shot at articulating a set of NGS internal values.  I understand that as words alone this is simply an exercise with little likelihood of impact — except to engender appropriate cynicism.  I’m determined  to have these values become part of the fabric of this place.  Managers and staff will succeed or not, in large part, based on how well their actions reflect these values.

Some of you might interpret these as fairly generic —  ideas that any organization worth its salt would espouse. I’ve tried, to the extent possible, to make them reflect the situation at NGS and those things we feel uniquely.

So here they are!  I hope you’ll share any thoughts you may have regarding these and how we can ensure that they become meaningful.

NGS Internal Values

  • Personal Integrity– Be straightforward, honest and clear in our interaction with colleagues, partners and customers.
  • Collaboration– Reach across the organization to magnify and enrich our best ideas to best serve the mission and our customers.
  • Dialog and Debate– Engage in the open exchange of ideas and differing perspectives; there should be no penalty, explicit or subtle, for constructive disagreement.
  • Trust and Respect– Treat our colleagues, partners and customers with respect and with the presumption of positive intentions on their part.
  • Curiosity– Inquire, innovate and explore: Inquisitiveness has been the building block of this institution since its founding. Let’s bring that rich curiosity to all we do.
  • Think Mission– Frame all decisions and actions within the context of our mission to promote understanding of the world and to inspire people to care about the planet.
  • Embrace the Future, Honor the Past– Change is the one thing we can count on—let’s make it our ally. It is vital that we separate those things that represent overarching principles from the things that simply hold us back.

I look forward to your feedback and appreciate your support.

10 Comments

  1. kgardine
    Posted February 24, 2010 at 1:40 PM

    I recently heard Martha Stewart say something that really drove home the point that to stay the same is not an option. She said “When you are through changing…you’re through”.

  2. econn
    Posted February 24, 2010 at 5:39 PM

    I would like to add a line to the Last of the NGS Internal Values: Embrace the Future, Honor the Past, and Live the Present.

  3. Nancy Correll
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    John,

    Thank you for carrying through with this.

    Could your internal values be part of new-employee orientation or added to the policies and practices guide?

    I especially like the concept of making change our ally. It is truly a source of never ending new opportunities for NGS.

    We are not a company like Microsoft, so we won’t necessarily be coming out with the next nifty tech toy, such as the Kindle (although the Crittercam shows that we can if we want to)…but we are the kind of company that can be on whatever media the rest of the world latches onto. We have continually adapted our products over the past 122 years to bring our readers, viewers, and listeners the world. Change has been the catalyst for us to not just survive but to also thrive.

    Life will always give NGS reasons and ways to connect with our planet.

  4. dsprague
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 2:06 PM

    It’s great to see these and hear the commitment behind holding all of us accountable for them. To that end, could Collaboration (which feels inspirational but vague) be framed more concretely, with specific expectations, so you know it when you see it (or don’t)? Collaboration: Achieve the best possible results for our organization – our mission and our customers — by openly sharing information and resources across divisions and tapping into the contributions of talented people throughout the organization.

    On ideas for making these become meaningful, how about each EMC member gathering their troops, reaffirming their commitment to these values, and soliciting ideas on concrete steps he or she can take in the coming year to better live the values. Put them in writing, and be evaluated on them at year’s end (how specifically did you foster dialog, collaborate, encourage innovation…?). Each of their direct reports does the same, and so on down the line, until every person is consciously striving to embody these values via relevant goals.

  5. jfahey
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 5:41 PM

    Thank you Donna. I think we’ll be able to recognize collaboration when we see it — or the absence of it. I like your idea about moving these principles in a meaningful way through the organization. We may use some hybrid of your suggestion.

  6. jfahey
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 5:43 PM

    Thanks Nancy. I obviously agree entirely. J

  7. jfahey
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 5:44 PM

    Thanks Edwin. I would like to keep it as is but your admonition to “live the present” is good advice for everyone.

  8. jfahey
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 5:45 PM

    Someone once told me; “when you’re not growing you’re dying!”

  9. davidcassidy
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 6:24 PM

    sounds great to me. TY J “mission forward” : )

  10. kmantsch
  11. Posted February 26, 2010 at 11:29 AM
    Libraries and Information Services, as a division whose central purpose is collaboration though information sharing, has created a number of tools to encourage communication and collaboration. While these tools may need enhancing to be truly useful across divisions, the Future Events
    database, NGS Conference Central, the Trends Analysis Blog and NGS Purchased Research file are solid first steps in enhancing information sharing across the Society. However, it is only when management integrates such tools into their workflow that they will they become useful. A clear statement of values is a necessary step, but without management support for concrete initiatives that support the values, they may remain, as Donna suggests, inspirational but vague.
  • Calico Jack

    All nice thoughts, and you’ll find them practiced by certain individuals in certain divisions. Actually, I’ve found more people than not are collaborative, work well across divisions, and keep the mission foremost in mind. But everyone knows business unit heads who build empires and protect turf. And as long as they are financially incentivized to do so it will continue. Some of those turf battles occur in John’s office, so it’s not like he’s unaware there’s a problem. I think anonymous 360 degree reviews for managers might be helpful. And there are a couple of business unit heads who are notorious for not respecting their colleagues and reports, and for verbal abuse. This also must be no secret to John, yet those individuals continue to thrive at NGS.

    • In my time at NGS, I found most of my colleagues were (as you say) collaborative & collegial. The problems arise when the business stops growing, and elbows start flying.

      Re: your idea about anonymous 360 degree views — that’s tricky because it invites more nastiness, not less. Of course, you’re an exception, Calico Jack — we don’t know who you are, and your comments are thoughtful & civil. But read most any blog & you realize: Anonymous commenting can degenerate into a food fight, and fast.

      While I applaud John for trying to cultivate healthy “internal values,” it won’t matter much unless he also has an “internal plan”: How is our Society going to avoid the media meltdown that’s now underway? Without an answer to that question, then all this “values” talk will only produce a well-behaved, very civil group of passengers who won’t scream & claw at each other as the ship continues to take on water through that gaping hole in the hull.

      Thanks for writing, CJ. (Hey – do you know Carto Joe, who is another commenter here at Society Matters? You guys have the same monogram. 🙂 )

  • Calico Jack

    All nice thoughts, and you’ll find them practiced by certain individuals in certain divisions. Actually, I’ve found more people than not are collaborative, work well across divisions, and keep the mission foremost in mind. But everyone knows business unit heads who build empires and protect turf. And as long as they are financially incentivized to do so it will continue. Some of those turf battles occur in John’s office, so it’s not like he’s unaware there’s a problem. I think anonymous 360 degree reviews for managers might be helpful. And there are a couple of business unit heads who are notorious for not respecting their colleagues and reports, and for verbal abuse. This also must be no secret to John, yet those individuals continue to thrive at NGS.

    • In my time at NGS, I found most of my colleagues were (as you say) collaborative & collegial. The problems arise when the business stops growing, and elbows start flying.

      Re: your idea about anonymous 360 degree views — that’s tricky because it invites more nastiness, not less. Of course, you’re an exception, Calico Jack — we don’t know who you are, and your comments are thoughtful & civil. But read most any blog & you realize: Anonymous commenting can degenerate into a food fight, and fast.

      While I applaud John for trying to cultivate healthy “internal values,” it won’t matter much unless he also has an “internal plan”: How is our Society going to avoid the media meltdown that’s now underway? Without an answer to that question, then all this “values” talk will only produce a well-behaved, very civil group of passengers who won’t scream & claw at each other as the ship continues to take on water through that gaping hole in the hull.

      Thanks for writing, CJ. (Hey – do you know Carto Joe, who is another commenter here at Society Matters? You guys have the same monogram. 🙂 )

  • Sean Corcoran

    I like this essay very much. It IS important to treat people with respect. Unfortunately, when I inquired about why I cannot view the $200 in CD-Roms I bought from the Society, I was treated with contempt in the first email I received back from manager Nancy Correll. (see below) The Society stopped supporting the disks I bought, so all 32 and the beautiful, red velvet-lined wooden box are useless. Correll says the disk technology is dead. But my computer reads the disks just fine. In fact, the Society still sells disks with the same archive. The problem is, for the disks I bought, the Society walked away and stopped supporting the viewer and search software — 2 years after I paid my $200. I asked Correll if the Society would stand behind its products, and she said no, my only option is to pay AGAIN for the exact same data again. Or, go to the library, she recommended. Look at this condescending paragraph from the Society’s representative:

    “While no one enjoys having to periodically replace or update our cell phones, computers, record players, vinyl records, 8-track players, videocassettes, VCRs, DVD players, dial-up Internet service, copper-cable telephone service, rooftop television antennas, home air-conditioners that use Freon, boomboxes, cars, analog television sets, incandescent lightbulbs, etc., ever advancing technology sometimes requires it.”

    Really? I inquire about the $200 I spent on an archive I cannot use, and I get a lecture about lightbulbs and TV antennas?

    I love the Society. Hopefully my ongoing experiences with “customer service” does not taint that. Thank you.

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