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- Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff has made four key values a centerpiece of the company’s culture since founding it in 1999: trust, innovation, equality, and customer success.
- That focus on values has, at times, put Benioff in the middle of hot-button political issues like LGBTQ rights. But his steadfast adherence to the four tenets has helped Salesforce consistently rank high on top workplace and employee-satisfaction surveys.
- Now, as the war for talent intensifies, Benioff says it’s impossible to recruit the most qualified people without upholding a commitment to values.
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Since founding Salesforce in 1999, co-CEO Marc Benioff has always made four key values — trust, innovation, equality, and customer success — a centerpiece of the company’s culture.
That focus has become even more critical as the war over talent intensifies and employees increasingly want their top executives to publicly rebuke behavior from politicians and others that defy those values.
“Gone are the days when companies can recruit and retain top talent without upholding a commitment to values,” Benioff wrote in his recent book “Trailblazer.”
Benioff has lived up to the moniker of “activist CEO,” or those executives that more aggressively speaking out on hot-button, sometimes politically charged, issues like immigration and income equality. When Indiana tried to pass a law that would have effectively given businesses the choice to discriminate against LGBTQ patrons, for example, he quickly assembled a coalition of other business leaders to push then-Gov. Mike Pence to successfully change the measure.
That focus on values is just one reason why Salesforce — with a market cap of $139 billion — consistently sits at the top of rankings for employee happiness and most desired companies to work for. LinkedIn research in 2018 found that 71% of the full-time professionals it surveyed in the US said they’d be willing to take a pay cut if they could work for a company whose mission and values aligned with theirs.
Salesforce’s commitment to values is also why Benioff regularly ranks high on the Harvard Business Review’s list of top CEOs, which takes into account environmental, social, and governance criteria.
Celebrity Culture: How Salesforce ensures that managers adhere to company values
Publicizing the values is the easy part. Making sure employees stick to them daily is a more difficult task. But it’s crucial to retaining talent, according to Benioff.
“When bright employees see misalignment with their values, they view it as a personal betrayal — and then they walk,” he wrote.
Sometimes that means literally walking out. When The New York Times reported on a $90 million severance package for Android cofounder Andy Rubin after he was terminated amid sexual-misconduct allegations, thousands of Google employees staged a global protest.
At Salesforce, leadership takes several steps to ensure that managers are living up to the company’s four main values. According to Jody Kohner, Salesforce’s senior vice president of employee engagement, the results of a biannual employee-engagement survey helps the organization identify outstanding managers, or the leaders who hit their business goals and keep their teams excited about the company’s mission.
The results also help employees figure out which boss they might like to work for at Salesforce. If a manager has more than five employees complete the survey, that manager’s aggregate scores on measures like how overwhelmed their team feels are available to the entire organization.
Celebrity Culture: Benioff says a company’s commitment to values ‘will come at the expense of profits’
Companies of every size and stripe love to tout their values. But adhering to that culture becomes more difficult in times of crisis, namely when abiding by those tenets could cost money.
Benioff, for example, was a big supporter of former WeWork CEO Adam Neumann, once praising him for also leading a value-driven company. But when discussing the implosion of the office-sharing firm, Benioff appeared to criticize Neumann’s propensity for money above all else. It’s another example of his belief that you can’t place a dollar amount on values.
“There will be times when prioritizing values, especially trust, will come at the expense of profits. In the short term, that is,” he wrote. “But the money your company makes in any given quarter will never be more valuable than the trust you stand to lose over time.”
Other executives seem to be coming to the same conclusion. The Business Roundtable, a coalition of the nation’s most high-profile CEOs, like JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon and IBM’s Ginni Rometty, recently pledged to prioritize all stakeholders, not just shareholders. But some are skeptical of the pledge and how signatories will react when faced with the prospect of losing millions of dollars.
Ben Horowitz, the cofounder of the legendary venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, just published a book on the importance of company culture and values. He told Business Insider that an organization’s actions — how they live up to those values — are more important than mission statements and vague pronouncements.
In Benioff’s case, he has very publicly stood by the four values several times. When Salesforce’s top human-resources executives said the organization could have a pay-disparity problem between male and female workers, for example, he quickly launched a top-to-bottom review of salaries that ultimately resulted in spending $10.3 million to adjust employee pay across the enterprise.
“To attract and retain women and minorities in the company, equality needs to be embedded not only in our stated values but in our actions: in our hiring practices, in our retention practices, in how we promote employees,” he wrote.
Business Insider is putting together a guide to getting hired at Salesforce. If you are a current or former employee who would like to share your experience, contact the reporters at Jwilliams@BusinessInsider.com or Slebowitz@businessinsider.com.