The Corporate Storyteller

Expert tips on management communications and the power of storytelling

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: The Importance of Values

At today's chapter meeting of PRSA in Seattle, Monica Harrington of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation addressed the challenges that most foundations can only wish for: how to spend a more than $1 billion a year--and ensure that the funding produces the desired results. The #2 current challenge: planning an effective "ramp up" to begin spending at least $3 billion a year within the two years, a charge given by Warren Buffet when he announced early this year that he was entrusting most of his fortune to the Foundation.

Certainly, a foundation with $60 billion (approximately 50% from the Gates family, the rest from Bill's friend Warren) has a unique opportunity to make a significant difference in the world. One of Monica's points is at the heart of identifying your authentic corporate story. That is: the Foundation's core values are the key to effectively carrying out the mission. What's particularly impressive is that the Gates Foundation leaders are mindful of keeping the organization's core values "top of mind" for everyone involved.

The values themselves are equally impressive, both for their brevity and their clarity:

1) All lives—no matter where they are being led—have equal value.

2) To whom much has been given, much is expected.

Both are Gates family values, not surprisingly, given that it is a family foundation. One interesting insight is that these values are so important to the family, Bill's mother reminded Melinda of the second one on the day she and Bill were married. What a weighty comment to get from your new mother-in-law at your wedding celebration!

Are your organization's core values important enough for you to remind employees at every opportunity? As a leader, do you make it a priority to ensure that every new employee knows what the values are? Do you use the core values to drive decisions on a daily basis--and do you expect others to do the same? And on a personal level, Are you in an organization whose values you share?

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