“Core values are the deeply ingrained principles that guide all of a company’s actions; they serve as its cultural cornerstones.”
Harvard Business Review
“Core values are inherent and sacrosanct; they can never be compromised, either for convenience or short-term economic gain.”
Collins and Porras
Every person has a set of values.
Every business has a set of values.
I have written & crafted several in my professional lifetime … some I am proud of and some I am embarrassed my name is associated with it.
But what I do know, and can unequivocally state, is that you can learn a shitload about a business by their value statement <how it is written, the words they use, and what they say>.
But what I do know is that any meaningful value statement for a business has to feature two things:
- Clear solid lines for behavior.
- Establish character of company.
On the former I have seen some experts say “tough” and I hesitate to use that word. I personally like to say I want to establish two things with regard to behavior – “stand here <on this belief & attitude>, right here, whenever you decide to do something and never cross this solid bolded line … ever … even if it means more money, more profit, more sales.”
On the latter I rarely see experts talk about this. I personally believe how you write your values statement should give some insight with regard to the company’s culture and personality. Anyone can write ‘integrity’ but when someone writes “undeviating honesty with regard to what is the right thing to do” … or “moral excellence based on conscious efforts to do the right thing” you … well … you get a sense of conviction and personality and character.
What else do I know?
If you do not draw some distinct boundaries around your business ‘values’, it is then left up to the discretion of the reader <employee>. And while that may sound okay in that it gives some freedom, autonomy and self-expression … well … it is not okay in that I could line 10 well intentioned employees up and ask them to define one word Values in terms of actual day-to-day business decision behavior and … uhm … I am gonna get a spectrum of responses.
What else do I know?
80% of the Fortune 100 share, and proudly share, their values publicly <even though they are hollow and stand for nothing but an attempt to meet a ‘demanded’ politically correct standard, i.e., they wouldn’t have really done it if someone hadn’t said ‘you have to do this’>.
55% of all Fortune 100 companies claim integrity is a core value <does it concern anyone that 45% do not claim integrity as a core value?>.
49% of all Fortune 100 companies claim customer satisfaction as a core value <despite the fact that is not a value but a business practice>.
40% of all Fortune 100 companies claim team-work as a core value <despite the fact teamwork is not a value>.
These are all good qualities.
But they do not establish any “things to do, or not do, behavior” guidelines.
Nor, I could argue, do they set the company apart from other compnies in any meaningful way.
In fact … I could argue that many of these kinds of things & ‘traits’ are almost cost of entry <and one should not enter a company who doesn’t have the basics like these even in the discussion>.
Beyond the fact poorly developed Values statements do not define behavior … tossing around values in a flippant fashion seeds an organization with cynicism.
The thing is that values have the uncomfortable & unenviable task of encouraging personal & organizational success … all the while fettering how success is achieved. Let’s call Values the reins you tug on and loosen on occasion on the organization.
Why does that matter?
Well. As Napoleon said: “success is the most convincing talker in the world.”
Success, in and of itself, is the one thread which holds together almost every organization. We can discuss purpose and we can discuss integrity but, in the end, the function of an organization is to be successful.
And success is a cat’s cradle clash of personal versus the organization
If someone’s personal employee identity is defined by the culture, the values of the culture need to be aligned not only with the personal values but also the success value … or it all gets negated, wiped out, and makes the employee feel lost, maybe isolated and, at its worst, feel less worthy as a person.
And then there is the organization itself.
It is a cultural truth that humans are tribal by nature … and organizational culture feeds into that <the values are maybe the key aspect of foundational culture aspects>.
Obeying values behavior is the price to pay for staying in whatever tribe you, as an individual, have elected to join. In exchange you get to enjoy the perks, protection and personal actualization.
When discussing the importance of establishing a strong values systems and statement for an organization, one should never overlook that there can be some discomfort with a few beliefs seen as ‘semi-objectionable’ beliefs by individual employees but that will not override the desire to be part of an organizational ‘tribe’ which simultaneously meets ‘desires for success’ AND “success in a desirable way.”
In other words … someone doesn’t have to exactly agree with every single thing you say or desire in behaviors but they will suck it up as a ‘positive price to pay’ for the overall desire to fit in <in a place that they see as an overall good place>.
What I do know is that empty values statements create cynical employees, alienate customers thru inconsistent behavior, and undermine managerial credibility.
I have worked with gobs of businesses and this is not an easy task. Ultimately it seems like a leader sits down and struggles to delineate between “what I value in my organization” versus “a value”.
What do I mean?
The best example I could find was where one writer online walked thru this scenario:
“A sense of urgency!” he replied without hesitation.
“So,” I asked, “your employees take quick action and hit all their deadlines?”
“No,” he replied, “they’re complacent as hell, which is why we need to make urgency one of our core values.”
Any leader worth a shit has aspirations for the business they will lead beyond simple dollars & cents. But they seem to get confused between specific behaviors which will contribute to the accumulation of the actual dollars & cents and the … well … the value accumulated within the dollars and cents.
That may sound weird <because when you report profits & revenue most people just look at the bottom line>.
But it is not weird.
Because at the end of the day an organization inevitably will judge the dollars & cents by how they were achieved … and if the organizational values are embedded within each of the dollars and each of the cents they will not only judge themselves well but each of those dollars and each of those cents will not just be money but also pride & satisfaction.
If the money attained, and I mean every cent, does not embody the organizational values then the organization itself starts doubting the value of the Values.
=== a final academic note on values & value systems ======
I noted earlier in this piece that defining values and value systems aligned with individual beliefs and organizational desires is difficult. The following outlines an academic breakdown of classes of values systems:
Indications for understanding of value systems:
It would seem useful to distinguish sets of value functions. It is also useful to attempt to distinguish for each case between: a positive interpretation (p); a negative interpretation (n); a paradoxical negative interpretation of the positive (pn); and a paradoxical positive interpretation of the negative (np):
- Class I: Efforts at recognizing ‘the’ one fundamental underlying value governing human society, readily labeled by different constituencies as ‘love’, ‘profit’, ‘peace’, ‘justice’, etc according to orientation (p). This then tends to be used in an overly simplistic or fanatical manner resulting in a form of behavioural blackhole (pn). These value terms are however readily deconstructed into a referential void that is characteristic of this class and the (entropic) pull that it exerts on the constructions of other classes (n). Such seemingly ‘negative’ aspects of this function are also recognized in references to existential despair, alienation and emptiness (n) — which is valued in spiritual disciplines for the perspective (np) that it gives (‘dark night of the soul’, ‘ego death’, etc) and its mysterious relationship as a catalyst or matrix for the creativity of Class IV (Nishitani, 1982).
- Class II: Value sets as assiduously elaborated by international constituencies in an effort to achieve universal consensus on a framework for action and governance (p). Such sets are also characteristic of religious dogma (eg sets of virtues). They may be viewed as essential to society for the reasons well argued by their advocates. They can also be viewed with suspicion as straitjackets on that very development of value sensitivity and diversity which ensures their relevance to living systems (pn). From a Class III perspective, such value sets are quite claustrophobic and inappropriate to a learning environment, to the point of being associated with outmoded patterns of dominance (n). Such sets may thus be seen as continuously decaying into Class I in the mindsets of the disabused and alienated. But it is precisely their ‘outdated’, predictable, dependable, disciplined quality which constitutes a vital complement (np) to the chaotic and evanescent value experiments of Class III, providing the stability through which Class IV can emerge.
- Class III: Value systems created by individuals and groups to frame and enhance their particular, and often private, experience (p). The freedom and experimental quality of such value creation reflects the views of social constructionists and an appreciation of diversity. Not necessarily viewed as (to be) widely held, permanent, coherent, or systematic. They are essentially unstable and unaccountable (pn) and may be quickly abandoned (through a decay process into Class I) although they may undergo a form of reification (into dogma) into Class II, possibly accompanied by some form of institutionalization. Some, notably those advocating Class II frameworks, severely question and condemn the social incoherence and irresponsibility of such value relativism where ‘anything goes’ (n). It is however precisely in their role as an evanescent, exploratory complement (np) to Class II that Class III creates a dynamic environment through which Class IV can emerge.
- Class IV: Emerging, surprising, new value patterns reflecting new degrees of sensitivity, coherence and fundamental groundedness as a source of inspiration (p) that contrast with those of Class II. In contrast to the chaos of Class III, these carry a recognizable quality of stability and integrity (failing which they decay into Class III, or directly into Class I). They tend however to attract a pathological enthusiasm, in a manner somewhat analogous to Class I, as offering ‘the secret elixir’ by comparison with the perceived irrelevance of other classes (pn). Through a form of value narcissism, they distract from the vital functions of other classes (n). They can be confused with more familiar values in other classes through a failure to recognize their originality and as such run the danger of being coopted under the frameworks of those other classes. It perhaps precisely in this manner that the new strengths renew the values in the other classes (np).
< Note: I apologize in that I lost the source for this but please note I cannot take credit for this extensive insightful analysis of value systems >