Take, for example, the case of Craig Gray. The 42-year-old always considered himself an athlete—he played soccer in college, raced cars and took up cross-country skiing so he could accompany his wife Julie on trips. It wasn’t long until skiing became his passion.
Then came the 1979 auto accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. For most people, that would mean an end to athletics the caliber of skiing—but not for Gray. After watching the Paralympics nationals in his home state of Maine, he got hooked on sit-skiing—a Paralympics event equivalent to the Olympics’ cross-country skiing event. Before he knew it, Gray was part of the Paralympic team.
While training for the Paralympic competition, Gray adjusted his work hours to 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., so he could hit the snow each morning, then work out at the onsite gym after hours. He was given three weeks off to compete in Japan.
Flora Bacco, director, organizational policies and programs at UNUM, says the company allows employees to develop schedules that fit their and their jobs’ needs. HR uses a questionnaire to ask questions such as: "What type of schedule do I need? How will customers’ needs be met? How will my schedule impact the department?" Employees then sit with managers and map out a schedule that works with the criteria. The program, says Bacco, adheres to the corporate value of "dealing with each other as individuals."
Corporate values nurture personal best.
Certainly, time off to compete in the Paralympics is an individual need. But for Gray, competition in the Paralympics and other events have been personally enriching. Working for a company that has written value statements, including "developing people to their full potential" and "having a common understanding of each other’s role and how we fit with the corporate values," has enriched his professional life, as well.
In October, Gray became director of Services for Independent Living, a new division of UNUM Life Insurance Company of America. The service provides UNUM customers—employers, employees and their families—information on services for disabled people. The goal is to help people who become disabled not just return to work, but return to life. Executives developed the service in response to growing expectations that disability insurers help rebuild quality of life, not just provide disability checks. "Customers now understand that having a disability doesn’t mean your life has come to an end; it simply will be different, and in some ways, better," Gray says.
Gray certainly proves this. He says: "It’s because of the flexibility and support that the company has given me personally, because it values me as a person—all of who I am—that we’ve been able to enter into new business areas. I can bring all of who I am to this job. It’s good to be able to be who you are and contribute to your capacity and perspective."
Enacting corporate values.
Companies talk about values, but it’s rare to see them in action. Bacco recognizes that UNUM is special in this respect, and says, "Almost every company has something nice on the wall, and it usually stays on the wall. At UNUM, [that value statement] comes down." Values are a part of the company’s identity, she adds, because they’re not owned by HR or senior management—everyone owns them. And everyone, from the top down, is evaluated by them. Adhering to the values is "part of the whole performance management program," says Bacco.
When actions and talk align as well as they do here, it’s a worthy tale to tell.Workforce, October 1998, Vol. 77, No. 10, p. 136.