One of the top stories in the news right now is the Volkwagen emissions scandal. It was recently discovered that the German auto manufacturer deliberately outfitted its vehicles with devices designed to cheat on emissions tests. The company has lost a third of its share value in under a week and it’s facing a host of repercussions, from lawsuits to fines. Many believe this spells the end of VW.

Meanwhile, here are some excerpts from their web site:

“We aspire to shape the mobility of the future – making it responsible, environmentally compatible and beneficial for everyone.”


“As far as Volkswagen Group is concerned, bearing its social responsibility has long been at the heart of our corporate culture.”

“This framework reflects the challenges of the 21st century, in particular those of resource conservation and climate protection as well as intra- and inter-generational fair play.”

Do you think anyone is buying any of that today? Not likely.

This story highlights the importance of congruency . In today’s hyperconnected world, where a story like this spreads like wildfire, it’s more important than ever to walk our talk and align everything we do.

Congruency and Retention

Congruency has immense impact on organizational performance. Nothing is as disillusioning to an employee or other stakeholder as an organization that says one thing and does another.

At one time, I worked for a company with a very autocratic culture. The executives ran the show and the rest of us took orders. I got a new insight about that when I recently ran into a coworker from those days.

A few years ago, she left to go over to a competitor with a friendlier, more inclusive culture. She liked the idea that her ideas would be listened to, that unquestioning obedience would no longer be required, that her own integrity would inform the way things were done.

But by the time I ran into her, she was back with our old employer. Why? Because she soon discovered that the new bosses did not deliver on their pretty words about empowerment and integrity. Because she values consistency over high ideals. As she put it, “I’d rather work for the evil I know. At least that way, I know what to expect”.

Congruency and Performance

By contrast, the resort I worked at as a young adult was extremely good at walking its talk. The company claimed to have a high commitment to customer service, including what they called “internal customers”, meaning how employees served each other. Sure enough, every new employee received the same high level of customer service training, even if they were dishwashers or laundry staff who would probably never see a hotel guest.

I believe that’s how they consistently got excellent performance out of us, even when we were exhausted from working long hours. They meant what they said, and they backed it up. Congruency, consistency. Crucial.

Goodwashing and Greenwashing

There’s a disturbing and unfortunate trend for companies to use the language of higher purpose to sell products and/or burnish their reputations, regardless of the impact their operations actually have on society and the environment.

There are bottled water commercials exploiting a mother’s love for her child, personal care products labelled ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ that contain known carcinogens…the examples are endless, sadly.

Because of this, prospective clients, employees, and other stakeholders are justifiably wary of the language of higher purpose. They’ve become hardened to it because it’s been so widely misused.

Our best defense against the onslaught of green- and- goodwashing is congruency. We have to back up our noble words with noble actions, from large to small, every day, in every way we can. We have to rigorously seek out points of friction between our ‘why’ and our ‘how’, and work to bring them into alignment. Although this will always be a work in progress, it’s definitely work worth doing.

People who are intimately involved with our organizations will, over time, see and appreciate our congruency; see how it sets us apart from the cynical marketers who talk the talk of purpose and trust without walking the walk.

As for our broader reputation, congruency will, at the very least, keep us from being categorized as fraudsters who are not be trusted, with the Volkswagens of the world.