Let’s face it, most company values suck. A corporate snoozefest if you will. The classic value trifecta of “respect”, “integrity” and “communication” have graced the walls of our cubicle-lined offices since the early 2000s. The cubicles have long since been dismantled, but the values remain.
After 10 years working in human resources, I found myself asking: “What value do values really add?” They get rolled out at convenient moments to serve an agenda (like that awkward performance improvement meeting), only to be archived shortly after for record-keeping purposes.
Once a year, preferably right before the staff Christmas party, HR sends the customary “values reminder” email to all staff. A naive hope that employees will behave accordingly, and there will be less after-party clean-up. Except it doesn’t quite work out that way.
Just ask Enron, who happened to have respect, integrity and communication as part of its core values. We all know how well that went down. Claiming integrity as a value isn’t a fraud prevention mechanism. It didn’t stop the corrupt behaviour that led to Enron’s downfall.
We could run a research project of companies who’ve had integrity in their values and ended up in some kind of corporate scandal. The words on the wall or website are worthless if they aren’t lived out by the team.
Let’s be clear, I’m not saying we don’t need respect, integrity and communication in our teams. We do. But, these aren’t aspirational qualities. They are the baseline – the non-negotiable expectations for teams and businesses.
If you want your values to be more than words on a wall, live them out.
So, is it time to ditch values altogether? The short answer is no. But, it is time to rethink our approach.
When I think about good company values, they go far beyond the baseline. They reflect your culture when it’s at its best. And, better yet, they don’t need to be boring. The best ones are as unique as the company’s brand identity. They mean something to your people.
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