How the Magna Carta Impacts Your Business

Craig Ross

How the Magna Carta Impacts Your Business

Are your company’s stated values rhetoric or rule? Seems fitting to pose this question in honor of 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta last month. The actions of feudal barons outside London shaped this discussion 800 years ago – and it has direct consequence on the levels of productivity within any business. Understanding the impact of the Magna Carta can help you realize the potential within your company and improve performance.

When King John gave his seal of approval to the Magna Carta in 1215, he effectively set expectations that your employees still have today. The historic document transformed leadership, rule and law in many ways, including declaring that the king or queen was required to abide by the laws of the land.

The values of most companies – such as trust, collaboration, accountability, teamwork – are principles that, like the Magna Carta, promote a people-centered orientation towards how business is done. When CEOs or other C-suite executives, however, espouse and promote the principles as binding within the company, employees expect their leaders to abide by them. And when they don’t, performance plummets.

Perception is Reality

While having a conversation with a CEO, I brought to his attention that there was a perceived gap between his company’s values and the behaviors of a few on his leadership team. His response informed me that he was aware of the breach, yet also had good reasons on why changes hadn’t been made. This led to the single greatest question in our discussion—what’s the cost to performance as thousands of employees observe this hypocrisy?

The CEO didn’t want to answer the question. Without stating it, he knows what you and I know. We want our kings and queens to abide by our laws.

While not condoning his actions, most of us have great empathy for his predicament. The demand for profitability is a colossal force that often leads to shortcutting good intentions and doing only what’s required by law.

The problem, and the opportunity, is this: What do employees perceive as law? Are the stated values of your organization rhetoric or rule?

Define the Purpose of Your Values

Consider taking three actions as it relates to your organization’s values:

  • Ask those on your team if trust, collaboration and other desired behaviors are a “Magna Carta” or simply a guide. If the company’s values are negotiable by you and others, start by being honest with this fact. Then ask the cost-of-hypocrisy question above. If the cost is bearable, then continue with the additional action step of communicating to all employees that stated values are not rule, but are instead statements of aspiration. (And get ready for an accelerated talent drain.


  • Define the purpose of your values. If the ideals you hold dear are not meant to be violated, yet you know your team has not met this standard, immediately create your plan of accountability to make changes. The blueprint doesn’t need to be complicated, either. Begin by communicating expectations, along with your personal motivation. Create ownership within others by asking for their ideas on the plan, including the consequence (rewards and otherwise), that will be delivered when and how.


  • Be purposeful in shaping the perception your employees have of the importance of your company’s values. This is done by being transparent about your understanding of any gaps in behaviors, including your own. Share with others the plan that is being executed. And create opportunities for people to tell stories about you living what you preach. This can be done by acts as simple as spending casual time in the employee cafeteria.

As the anniversary of the Magna Carta reminds us, the potential within any group of people can only be achieved when an agreement is made and kept on how people will function together. That may be a law that can’t be defended in court, but it still determines the every-day actions of your employees.