Two Reasons Corporate Values Don’t Work

Organizational or personal values describe HOW we operate. Many organizations claim to follow certain values because they list them on their websites, or they are on a poster in their offices.

However, many employees will say their organization has values published, but admit those companies do not live by them. Why?  I believe there are two reasons:

  1. The values are not defined. In other words, no one ever lays out exactly what each value looks like in practice.
  2. The values are not consistently communicated. Organizations and individuals must be marinated in their values consistently to make them part of their character..

From July 2 through July 9 I will be reposting 4 of the first 12 blogs I ever wrote.  They are the topics that seemed to resonate with a lot of people.  This is the third in that series.  I am taking a weeklong break to begin working on my first book.  I will return with new content on July 11.

Marinade Doesn't Burn

The Values Are Not Defined

Too often words such as Integrity, Trust, Communication, Innovation and others appear on organizational websites without any further explanation.  The employee is left to fill in the definition of each value for themselves.

The problem with this plan is each of us can look at these words and define them in a different way.  Even if we all went to the dictionary for the definition, we all would see these values differently when it came to applying them.  Why?

We all come into an organization with a different view of the world based on our own experiences, circumstances and upbringing.  To build a common culture and character in an organization, the leaders must spell out what each value looks like when applied.  Here is an example:

Values in Practice:  Trust

Trust is maintained within Acme Inc. in the following ways:

  • We will not sacrifice our integrity.
  • We will focus on shared goals rather than personal agendas.
  • We will respect everyone as equal partners.
  • We will keep our promises to our customers and each other.
  • We will admit our mistakes and ask for forgiveness.

The example above is clear and concise.  Any new employee could enter the organization and understand how the value of Trust impacts the work environment and how to practically display that value. To see more examples of values defined click (here).

Values Are Not Consistently Communicated

Professional sales people have all heard the statistic that claims a client must hear something 7 times before they will remember it.

As leaders, we believe that about important messages to our customers, but why don’t we believe that about the important messages we deliver to those we lead?

If the leadership is not communicating its values to the organization consistently, they are ineffective.  That means a website and a yearly mention of values from behind a podium is not enough.

How Do Leaders Need To Communicate Values?

  • Train new hires on the definition and application of each value.
  • Leaders must model the corporate values in their day-to-day work.
  • When doing collective problem solving, return to the values to ensure adherence.
  • At monthly meetings open with a 15 minute discussion of one of the values, and it’s real life application.
  • Regularly celebrate someone who personifies and applies a particular value.

I stated that an individual and an organization must be marinated in their values to make them part of their character.  Why did I use the word marinate?

When meat is marinated the flavor from the marinade does not just sit on the surface like a barbeque sauce.  It sinks into the meat and becomes a part of its composition.  Why is that important?

Because when meat is marinated and placed over the heat, the flavor of the meat and the marinade is maintained and even enhanced by the fire.

A barbeque sauce placed on the surface burns off when placed over the fire.  The result is a charred sauce and dry, sometimes burned meat.

A person or an organization that is marinated in a set of values that is well defined will withstand the trials that will come.  The values will become a part of who they are and how they operate.  They will not break down under fire.

The Bottom Line:

As a leader, I must strive to take the values I hold dear, define what they look like in practice, and communicate those values consistently.  If I do these two things well, the character of the individuals and the organization I lead will emulate those values.

Question:

What value do you hold dear in your organization that needs further definition and communication?

6 Responses to “Two Reasons Corporate Values Don’t Work”

  1. CC July 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    No matter what the value, it needs to be not only communicated but lived. In other words, the leaders who communicate whatever value they choose – need to live and demonstrate their commitment to those values 24/7.

    • Dave Anderson July 17, 2012 at 6:39 am #

      Without living the values we claim, we become hypocrites.

  2. Tony Gowgiel July 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    Dave,
    I work for an organization that, in my opinion, does a spectacular job of defining values, and expecting all employees to live those values. The values are intertwined into the culture, and are reinforced in performance reviews, coaching, strategic talent reviews, and 360-degree feedback. I think that is the secret, as you say — it has to be more than just a ‘plaque on the wall’!
    Feel free to contact me if you want some details.

    • Dave Anderson July 17, 2012 at 6:41 am #

      Tony,

      I would love to hear more about what your organization does. They are obviously doing it right. The living of the values needs to permeate everything the team does.

  3. John Holland July 13, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    Dave – I don’t think “The values are not defined” is a major contributor to a company’s failure to live by them. Everyone knows what trust, integrity, innovation mean, so people are just making an excuse if they claim they don’t. Frankly, I wouldn’t want them working for me in either case; if they really don’t know or are simply making excuses. If the company leaders live the values well, they will flow down. I really think companies spend too much energy on mission and vision statements, and defining core values. There isn’t much room for creativity, and everyone is going to end up with the same PC-speak. For example, do you know a company that doesn’t have “integrity” and “respect” in it’s list of values?

    • Dave Anderson July 17, 2012 at 6:51 am #

      Your points are valid. The general definition of these values are not secret. However people do have different interpreting what they look like in practice.

      On the flip side, no one will claim they are a person who lacks integrity. But the shades of grey they work in shows differently. That is why these values need to be discussed at more than just a theoretical level. What do they look like in practice?

      I definitely am not a fan of more regulation and PC speak. Values should allow companies to set up fewer rules. If a company is setting rules to regulate their values, it is a sign that the organization as a whole does not buy in.