Start with Shared Values

If you work in a big company, with people around the world operating in different cultures, on different projects, with different skillsets and different world views, how can you create shared conviction and vision?

Don Vanthournout is the Chief Learning Officer of Accenture, a premier global management-services and advisory organization with more than 259,000 associates in almost fifty different countries around the world. Accenture is perhaps not unlike other multinational companies except that it has no clear headquarters. Accenture’s CEOs over the past few years have been based in Paris, Boston, Palo Alto, and Dallas. Its executives operate globally, and its associates are expected to adopt a nimble and global world view. They’re supposed to remain effective and adhere to the Accenture philosophy regardless of where they work. How can such a globally dispersed workforce, with no clear headquarters and a CEO with no nationalistic identity, have a strongly held, shared vision?

In October, 2011, I had an interview with Don Vanthournout. In that conversation, he explained that the company starts with a simple and clear set of values as its behavioral principles. Accenture ingrains these values in all associates, so regardless of where they are working in the world, the associates’ values and behavior are guided by them. As he put it,

we build core skills into our people on how we want them to collaborate and communicate with each other, how we want them to manage projects, but we’re never going to be able to guess every situation that might confront them. And so the why of why you spend so much time focusing on the value side of things is so that we can develop people who, when they’re thrown in that situation that they might not have been prepared explicitly for from a content standpoint, will from a contextual standpoint know how to operate in alignment with what Accenture values.

Next, according to Vanthouronout, Accenture operates under a principle of facilitating job mobility and growth. As the Chief Learning Officer, Vanthouronout knows people participate at their highest level of engagement and collaboration when they are doing work they love. When a position becomes tedious, he says, it’s time to look for growth opportunities. Accenture recognizes the need for constant development, and creates opportunities for them to fill that need. Vanthouronout’s recommendation is to start local—ask friends and colleagues for advice in developing oneself. He has found that the strongest professional developers trust the insight of their colleagues and take action to gain new and diverse skills.

When it comes to aspiration, those around us will understand and help place us in developing positions only if we voice our opinions and ideas about our own best career trajectory. Accenture has worked to build a culture in which managers are expected to identify and listen closely to the development aspirations of associates, with the recognition that those best placed will ultimately perform at their highest level and realize their greatest confidence.