Corporate Values are Meaningless unless….

I have to say I am sometimes a bit cynical about corporate values (there, I said it!). Not because they are not good things to have – in theory they are – but because so often they are words created to sound good, written by the senior team, a ‘project group’ or a bunch of consultants who then think ‘job done’. But everyone else thinks they are being ‘done to’.

No-one in the business really understands them or remembers them and even if they do, they don’t necessarily see those values being lived or breathed on a daily basis.

And we all know that actions speak louder than words.

There’s also the belief that some values can be seen as unhelpful to organisational performance or a way of avoiding doing ‘the tough stuff.’ (Years ago I worked with a CEO who wanted everyone to be ‘happy’ – he shut down any conversation whatsoever that wasn’t about ‘happy’ – you can imagine how that worked out……)

And here are two examples I’ve heard more recently:

‘How can I tell that person he’s not pulling his weight when we have the values of ‘respect and caring?’ (Interpretation of value: ‘Don’t say anything that’s ‘not nice.’)

Or ‘I’m so annoyed with her behaviour in the meeting but I can’t say anything because we have a value of mutual respect.’ (Interpretation of value: ‘Put up and shut up rather than give honest feedback’).

Part of the problem is in the interpretation of the value (SOLUTION: we need to do what Judith Glaser in her work on Conversational Intelligence calls ‘double clicking’ to really understand what those value words mean and how we live them on a daily basis).

The second part of the problem is we get into either/or thinking. ‘I can either be respectful and caring OR I can give tough feedback’. SOLUTION: The better question is ‘how can I be respectful and caring AND give tough feedback?’

And the ultimate proof of whether your values have any teeth? If I followed you around for a week would I see those values in action every day?